The nightmare of domestic violence in Russia

Article by Angelachiara Allegretti | Illustration by Matilde Morri

These months have been very frustrating for everyone, the lockdown has forced us to change our habits, our lives, and the relationship with the neighbor, staying home was the only way to be safe. However, for many, the lockdown has meant to be in a living hell. Data show that the lockdown due to the spread of the COVID-19 has caused an increase in domestic violence cases everywhere in the world, but in Russia, the situation is serious.

The Russian approach

In 2013 in the Russian Federation, there was no recognition of domestic violence as a crime. It has been estimated that every year the number of women killed by their husband or a family member was between 10,000 and 14,000 (Gabriela Baczynska, 2013). Many activists have campaigned for domestic abuse to be recognised. “Tы не одна”, literally “You are not alone”, is a women’s mutual help network, a project founded by the social and political activist Alena Papova. This project has aim to help women who already experienced domestic violence and prevent cases of violence.

Many hashtags have been used for the cause, as in the case of the flash mob #ЯНеХотелаУмирать (I Did Not Want to Die), consisting in taking a photo with an inscription on the body with the hashtag. Marina Pisklakova is a Russian activist who started her campaign against women violence in the early 1990s. In 1993 Pisklakova founded ANNA or Association No to Violence, Russia’s oldest non-governmental organization that deals with these issues and helps the victims.

In 2017, President Vladimir Putin signed the amendment that changed the domestic violence law, of course, causing much controversy. The conservative members of the Duma (the Russian Parliament) and the Russian Orthodox Church, which increased its influence in recent years, pushed for the new law. It is not strange for people who justify violence as a tradition to raise children (Jenny Stallard, 2018).

Domestic violence is not considered an abuse anymore, but an administrative crime, punished with a fine or up to 15 days in prison. It seems that for the government this was a common habit of family life, a part of Russian traditions. Since the decriminalization of domestic violence, the situation has worsened, reporting a dramatic increase in cases during the lockdown.

In this scenario, it is simple to understand how the 2017 law has fostered abuses against women.  Vitaly Milonov, a Russian politician of the United Russia party, the same party of President Putin, has stated that these data testifying the growth of domestic violence in Russia during the quarantine denigrate the family and the marriage as traditional institutions, and need to be verified. However, only in March, the help center for violence against women has registered + 24% of calls.

As a result of COVID-19 policy measures, domestic violence cases have become more heinous, victims must use coded messages to ask for help because the assaulter is with them in every moment. According to experts, the decriminalization of domestic violence has spread the sense of impunity, since in the majority of cases the injuries sustained by victims of abuse are not sufficient to launch a criminal investigation (BBC, 2013).

The situation is unbearable, and even the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has asked to take special measures to protect the victims. Nevertheless, after more than a month, nothing has changed. Indeed, women who go to report domestic violence receive a high fine for violation of quarantine. It seems ridiculous, when they find the courage to report, and think that the government will help them, the authorities turn their back on them.

What should we expect?

After the end of the pandemic, the Duma will resume the discussion of the bill, but how long women have to wait to be safe?

The end of the pandemic is uncertainty, as the future of the victims. Along with Azerbaijan, Russia remains the only member of the Council of Europe to have not only ratified but not even signed the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Only a conservative government and its narrow-mindedness could willingly accept this situation and doing nothing about it.

Even after these horrible statistics, it seems very difficult that the law would change. Nevertheless, the activist and politician Alena Papova has worked at some aspects of the bill that have been ignored in the first place but could be considered in the future, as the prevention of domestic violence and the murder within the walls of the house (

The great effort of the activists, their help to the victims through projects and associations, is essential, but it is not enough. Authorities should support them in changing the current text of the bill, which does not give a clear signal that domestic violence is a crime.

In conclusion, such a law is really needed and women need it now. Human rights laws are the basis for a democratic country and an upright society. In 2020, it is not only good sense, but it is a duty to give the message to all the victims that they are not alone and that every act of violence is always to be condemned and cannot be justified.

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