“If a man beats you, he loves you”
“If a man beats you, he loves you” : Russian Women Take A Stand Against Domestic Abuse
December 27th, 5 a.m. :
I wake up to the sound of his name. M fixes my hands and begins to beat: strikes to the head and face for conspiring with my friends against him. After perhaps two dozen strokes, he stops and says, “Now, this is your true face, Anna.”
Anna Zhavnerovich, a 28-year-old lifestyle journalist and editor at W.O.S. never expected to experience abuse at the hands of her boyfriend on 27th December. After deciding to break off her two year relationship with him, Anna underwent severe facial bruising as a result of her decision. When Anna went to the police to report what had happened, the police disregarded her complaints and called it “ a suffering at the heat of passion."
Sadly, Anna isn’t the only person in Russia who has endured painful abuse at the hands of her loved ones and experienced the same, mundane responses from Russian police. Many other women do. Now, they want to tell you their stories. They want to talk about it.
In spite of the police’s disregard of domestic violence in Moscow, more and more Russian women are banding together, documenting their tales and seeking out help from one another and the government to get the justice they deserve.
“I decided to take advantage of my media position to talk about my own experience. I felt it was necessary to show that this was happening in young circles, rather than in the wilderness amongst unemployed alcoholics,” said Anna Zhavnerovich, one of the few women who have successfully obtained a judicial court case out of 1,000 women in Russia. “I wanted to make sure my work would help facilitate the adoption of a special law on domestic violence which protected our rights.”
Anna documented her traumatic domestic abuse from December 26th to January 4th in a third-person point of view diary to emotionally remove her from the story. Soon after, Zhavnerovich began receiving multiple letters from friends and other media figures through her W.O.S account and social media sites that they, too, suffered abuse in silence.
Zhavnerovich has highlighted the Russian legal approach to domestic violence has only aggravated the status of domestic violence in Russia. Currently, the “beating” section of the Russian Criminal Code indicates that women must gain sufficient evidence that they were victims of domestic abuse before the police can consider their case. Moreover, courts are also reluctant to accept such cases and good criminal lawyers come at exorbitant prices. Therefore, chances of a woman’s domestic violence case being heard in Russian Court is extremely slim, unless she has publicized her issue like Zhavnerovich.
“Many women are also reluctant to report their cases because they aren’t economically independent from their husbands. Furthermore, some feel as it it’s their fault that their husbands are beating them,” said Alena Popova, leading Russian women rights activist and media consultant in the EGov industry. “We’re trying to change that. We’ve created a website, protectwomen.ru and also collected more than 120,000 signatures for a petition to initiate a law against domestic violence.”
The website, ProtectWomen.ru helps women understand what they can do if they’ve experienced abuse and also how to recognize the signs of others who are abused. The website also provides women with social hotels, outreach to Russian police officers, shelters and numbers for psychological assistance. In terms of the petition on a new law countering domestic violence, the website links many to this petition and also indicates how several prominent politicians, such as Inna Syvatenko, Deputy of the Moscow City Duma, are supporting it.
However, the fact that this law against domestic violence has been initiated 40 times in the past 10 years but has not been voted on in parliament suggests that this petition might garner a challenge in the Russian Parliament. Vladimir Putin has indicated that he will support the bill, should it be initiated once more, according to the Guardian. However, Russia’s official children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, has denied support and indicated that “excessive use of the terms “ domestic abuse” serves to intimidate families and children."
Despite the conflicts of opinions between Russian politicians, Popova is encouraging women to band together, help each other and strengthen the argument for the law against domestic abuse. “I have many lawyers to help victims who contact me through my governmental website or Facebook. I also ask ex-victims to help current victims transition past theirs experiences. It’s the only way to unite women, teach them that their lives are worth while and broaden the idea that domestic violence is prevalent.”
64% of crimes committed against women were at home in 2013, according to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. 9,100 women were killed and 11,300 suffered serious bodily injury in 2013 due to domestic violence. Furthermore, although the Russian proverb, “ If he beats you, he loves you” is a literary joke, it isn’t helping Russians understand the serious consequences of domestic abuse. Through these figures and the proverb, it becomes imminently clear why many women, like Popova and Zhavnerovich are encouraging other women to report their troubles and pushing the government to facilitate a special law on domestic violence.
However, Maria Arievitch, a student of Russian descent currently studying sociology at NYU feels that Russia isn’t the only country experiencing this issue. “I know that domestic violence is a huge issue in Russia, especially since it still preserves its conservative family values, making the topic hard to discuss,” she said. “However, considering the fact that the US shares the same 25% violence against women statistics with Russia according to The Huffington Post, I feel we need to examine issues like this with a critical eye, in regards to our own statistics and historical contexts. It’s great that Russia, a country that has suffered many political shifts is slowly moving in the right direction, but we should work on this issue worldwide and start it with ourselves first.”
Maria is right. Russia is just starting to change its social mores. Whereas, the US has only recently started adapting legislations dealing with domestic abuse despite possessing a democracy for years . The problem is clear: we focus too much on others to focus on ourselves. Domestic abuse is a highly prevalent issue worldwide.
Yes, Russia needs to quickly adapt a bill countering domestic abuse. However, the US, and other countries, with legislations on this topic also need to work on changing the 25% violence against women to a 0%. Women are integral and valued members of the society and their families. Let’s start treating them like that.
Dakshayani is currently a freshman at NYU, majoring in French and Journalism, with minors in German and English Literature. Raised in Malaysia and Australia, Dakshayani enjoys exploring gender roles across various cultures and meeting people who are passionate about the arts. Her interests are predominantly artistic, linguistic or associated with animals: theatre review, French, German, scriptwriting, violin studies, dog shelter volunteering and writing.