Female lawmakers in Russia helped pushed through a bill that will decriminalize domestic violence

Olga Batalina, one of women behind Russia’s controversial new domestic battery legislation.
Olga Batalina, one of women behind Russia’s controversial new domestic battery legislation.
Image: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
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The lower chamber of the Russian parliament voted Friday (Jan. 27) to pass legislation that will effectively erase domestic violence from Russia’s criminal code.

The bill still has to go through the higher chamber and then get president Vladimir Putin’s signature, but advocacy group Human Rights Watch says it’s very likely to be signed into law.

Under the proposed new regulations, if a first-time offense of domestic battery does not cause serious bodily harm, such as a broken limb, it would be considered an “administrative offense” and not a criminal one. A first-time incident would be punished by a fine (an equivalent of $500) or 15 days of community service. If a victim of domestic violence is severely harmed and needs to be hospitalized, the incident would fall under regular assault laws, according to Yulia Gorbunova, a Moscow-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. In that case, or if there are repeat offenses, it would lead to criminal charges.

The bill was authored and pushed by, among others, two women: lawmakers Olga Batalina and Elena Mizulina. Mizulina once said in a TV appearance that she thinks women “don’t take offense when they see a man beat his wife” and that “a man beating his wife is less offensive than when a woman humiliates a man.”

“They argue this law will help protect Russian families, it will make families stronger,” said Gorbunova.

The Russian Orthodox church chimed in, saying that while children should be protected from “criminal activity,” you “cannot equate such criminal assaults with rational and moderate use of physical punishment by loving parents.”

Russia decriminalized battery that doesn’t result in serious harm in 2016. Ever since then, proponents of the law have been arguing that if violence that doesn’t result in serious injury like broken limbs or concussions among strangers is not a criminal offense, why should this kind of battery among families be any different?

Domestic violence is widespread in Russia. According to official statistics, it accounts for 40% of all violent crime in the country. But this number might be much higher. Women underreport domestic violence, because of the social stigma surrounding it, and also because they don’t trust they will be helped. “Police don’t take complaints of domestic violence seriously,” said Gorbunova. “They say, ‘call us when he breaks your legs.'”

It’s likely that if the new law passes, preventing domestic violence in Russia will be even more difficult. Politicians will be less likely to speak out against it, and useful statistics will be severely skewed.

“[Domestic violence] exists everywhere. The most effective way to combat it is to have a specific law against domestic violence,” said Gorbunova. ”This is a huge, specific problem that needs specific solutions.” In Russia, domestic violence victims already lack officially sanctioned shelters and other resources. Now they will be essentially deprived of their only legal recourse.