Understanding the Problem of Domestic Violence in Russia
The Russian State Duma is currently considering a law that is meant to protect the victims of domestic violence and make it easier for them to seek justice. This is happening against the backdrop of recent widely discussed domestic abuse stories and high-profile cases of retaliation. However, the proposed legislation has faced opposition from conservative groups who contend the proposal would encroach on traditional values and the privacy of families. Alena Popova, Janet Johnson, and Marianna Muravyeva discussed the proposed law, its political and legal implications, the rationale behind this legislation, and the backlash against it, considering the issue from both the scholarly and the activist perspectives.
"Thanks to the Soviet time, we have the concept of public danger as the main grounds for criminalization of an action. Domestic violence was not viewed as public danger because it's a private matter, and so today's discourse and the reluctance of the contemporary legal system to accommodate that is firmly based on the understanding that domestic violence is actually not a public danger, so it's not a danger to society per se, it's a danger to specific individuals."
"You can see that within the original draft there was a proper definition of domestic violence that we use in international legislation and again in academic literature as well, which got changed into the definition saying that domestic violence is violence that is not criminal, which is absurd because any violence, of course, should be criminalized."
"So what needs to be done? The law on the prevention of domestic violence needs to be amended according to the international law and the Constitution of the Russian Federation... They could use the Russian legal heritage, that's the point. It's not that Russia has not had anything on domestic violence, we have, and if you think about traditional values, and that could be a good argument that this is very traditional, we're actually returning and going back to the roots and here is your roots in the imperial legislation of the mid-19th century."
Janet Elise Johnson
"Defining the problem and getting it on the agenda has been the key political struggle for three decades and so feminists have noticed that the issues related to gender are different because defining the problem can be the crucial problem and activists can be seen as an epistemic community, a community that's producing knowledge that's in abeyance in the sense that the state has been restricting it."
"The state is now collecting data [on domestic violence] but even so the way that the data is collected, the way that the state responds to domestic violence and the perception of domestic violence shapes the data. We don't always know, we don't really have great information about the extent of the problem over time, and when the state responds to domestic violence, there tends to be an increase in domestic violence reported because then they see that it's seen as a problem."
"We are fighting not just for the law but for the culture and for the thoughts of our audience that domestic violence is a crime but not a tradition."
"The campaign against the law against domestic violence was invested in, or financed, by the very prominent Russian oligarch, his name is Konstantin Malofeev, and he put a lot of money into that campaign to discredit the law against domestic violence with only one idea. He said, look, we are the Russian empire with our traditional values which say that the man is the head of our families. So if these crazy feminists and international spies and agents intervene into our families, they destroy the fundamental ideals of our country and our state. So the main ideals of our state is that we are the man state, we are the state for men, we are the patriarchal state."
Head, Analytical Center, Ethics and Technology
Janet Elise Johnson
Professor of Russian Law and Administration, Aleksanteri Institute and Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange. Read more
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