As women marched for their rights around the world just a few weeks ago, in Russia, a stark change in the law was becoming another reason to protest. In Moscow, talk in parliament turned to an amendment to a bill which would decriminalise domestic violence. Yesterday, as Putin put his name to it, that amendment became a reality.
The order is worrying on several levels, not least because it severely softens existing punishment for domestic violence. Yesterday, beatings of spouses or children resulting in bruising or bleeding (but not broken bones), carried a maximum sentence of two years. But, despite those old measures being inadequate to begin with, the new bill means that the same offence is now punishable by just 15 days in prison, or a fine – an administrative measure – providing the crime does not happen more than once a year. Already it’s estimated that a woman dies as a result of domestic violence every 40 minutes in Russia.
It barely needs to be said that those distinctions only serve to legally validate and empower the perpetrator. The survivor, meanwhile, is left smaller, weaker, and even further away from justice
And the law also makes a dangerous distinctions between “types” of violence. The amendment decriminalises so-called “moderate” violence (a reminder that this includes everything apart from breaking bones), as though some violence is “better” or, frighteningly, justified. It barely needs to be said that those distinctions only serve to legally validate and empower the perpetrator. The survivor, meanwhile, is left smaller, weaker, and even further away from justice.
Those who support the amendment say that it closes a loophole in the law which punished family members more harshly for assaults from strangers. They also say that government should be less interfering with matters in the family home. Matters like women losing their lives to violent partners, egged on by ever-softening laws and the normalisation of abuse.
A draft law providing protection – like restraining orders and safeguards for survivors of abuse – could have been passed simultaneously. It remains stagnant in Russian parliament and is not, its reported, expected to be passed. Attempts to protest the law have apparently been thwarted by authorities, though 300,000 women have signed a petition opposing it.
And Russian tabloid presses like Komosomolskaya Pravda, in support of the law change, have been issuing editorials which claim there is an “advantage” to wife-beating. “Recent scientific studies show the wives of angry men have a reason to be proud of their bruises,” the paper said. “Biologists say that beaten-up women have a valuable advantage: they more often give birth to boys!”