Updated: Dec 2, 2019
“Russia could make domestic violence a crime two years after lawmakers decriminalized some forms of domestic abuse, a top senator has said, after a ruling by Europe’s top human rights court put a spotlight on the issue.”
In February 2017, Russia decriminalised many forms of domestic abuse. Yes, that’s right; Russia said that abuse was to be lawfully acceptable. They confirmed to the world that it was acceptable to abuse your wife, as long as ‘no bones were broken and it was not more frequent than once a year’.
As someone who has dedicated their life to preventing young women going through the same abuse I did, news like this was more than a setback. I was devastated. In the way some felt about Trump being elected, I felt the impact of the decision all the way through to my bones. Because, just like those who feared the consequences of Trump's power against vulnerable minorities, I could foresee the consequential implications.
Russia’s government chose to make a political move that left millions of women unprotected. Even more so than they already might have been. Which I would define as being as close to a declared war on women as I’ve heard in a very long time indeed.
Government statistics record that one in five Russian women experience violence at the hands of a partner. Personally, I tend to wonder about the reality of statistics regarding domestic violence. As a woman who has been through two abusive relationships - the first of particular violence - I know how first hand how difficult it can be to speak to officials about what is happening beyond closed doors. And if you do, for that voice to be heard.
Generally, domestic violence statistics are built from a head count of support service users (in the UK, Women’s Aid produces such a report once yearly) or they are collected from police collected data. Which begs the question; if such abuse has been ‘removed’ from Russia’s crime list, are reports still going to be taken?
Our battle as campaigners against domestic violence is to aide the understanding of what domestic violence is, and what 'counts' under this term. To de-criminalise abuse - and then toy about with re-criminalising it - makes this issue all the more widely confusing. The very real consequences of this, is that it literally sends women to their deaths in the mean time.
I believe violence should always be illegal. Whether it's perpetrated by your husband, a drunk on the street, or an assassin. Whether it's via fist, a shotgun, or someone's voice. I believe it to be an unacceptable behaviour. And certainly not one we should be debating the criminal profile of.
Surely, laws should be definitions of wrong and right rather than loose and changeable concepts? Legal systems exist to set the moral boundaries for communities both large and small. Otherwise, what is the purpose of their existence? They are there to draw a line in the sand in efforts to protect potential victims from harm. Not an idealist concept, but one of a duty of care.
Women of Russia, I hear you. I see your photo selfie campaign online, where so many of you bravely have shared the physical wounds you have suffered whilst beyond the aide of protective care. You and I both know the depth of the abuse wounds you cannot photograph. I applaud you for your honesty, and support you every step.
Law makers, Russia and beyond? Consider making choices that support the women who live in your communities. Lives, beyond statistics and politics, are quite literally depending on it.