Rus­sia’s blow to women

Moscow sends a mes­sage that do­mes­tic bru­tal­ity is le­git­i­mate.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

VIC­TIMS OF do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are of­ten help­less to fight back, for rea­sons of fear, shame and feel­ings of de­feat. A civ­i­lized so­ci­ety en­acts laws to pro­tect such vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. The de­ci­sion by the Rus­sian par­lia­ment to change the law in order to de­crim­i­nal­ize some forms of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is wrong-headed and sends a mes­sage that bru­tal­ity in a fam­ily is le­git­i­mate.

On Fri­day, the Rus­sian lower house of par­lia­ment, the State Duma, ap­proved a bill that de­crim­i­nal­izes do­mes­tic bat­tery for first-time of­fend­ers. Bat­tery against a fam­ily mem­ber will be sub­ject to ad­min­is­tra­tive rather than crim­i­nal penalty if it does not cause se­ri­ous med­i­cal harm. Vi­o­la­tions can be pun­ished with a fine of up to 30,000 rubles or about $500, po­lice cus­tody of up to 15 days or com­pul­sory com­mu­nity ser­vice of up to 120 hours. Sec­ond-time of­fenses and those caus­ing se­ri­ous med­i­cal harm would still be crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions and pun­ish­able by up to two years in prison.

The rea­son this came about now is that last sum­mer, par­lia­ment de­crim­i­nal­ized bat­tery among strangers but not among fam­ily mem­bers, which re­mained a crim­i­nal mat­ter. This irked some law­mak­ers and the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church. They felt that it meant a par­ent could be pun­ished more harshly for slap­ping a child than a neigh­bor. Ac­cord­ing to the Econ­o­mist, the church said that “rea­son­able and lov­ing use of phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment is an es­sen­tial part of the rights given to par­ents by God him­self.” The re­sult was the leg­is­la­tion just passed. Af­ter the Duma voted 380 to 3 on a third read­ing, the bill went to the up­per cham­ber, the Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil, where it is ex­pected to pass eas­ily and then be signed by Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The move fits a larger drive by Mr. Putin and some of his al­lies to in­still what they call tra­di­tional fam­ily val­ues. There’s pre­cious lit­tle data, but by all ac­counts, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­mains a se­ri­ous prob­lem in Rus­sian so­ci­ety. One In­te­rior Min­istry es­ti­mate is that 12,000 women are killed ev­ery year in as­saults by their part­ners. But there are deep di­vi­sions over the is­sue. In Soviet times, the pres­ence of the state was per­va­sive, and now some peo­ple say the state should keep its nose out of fam­ily mat­ters. At the same time, there has been a grow­ing grass-roots aware­ness, in­clud­ing a so­cial me­dia cam­paign in Rus­sia and Ukraine last year un­der the hash­tag “#IAmNotAfraidToS­peak.”

What’s most ob­jec­tion­able about the law is the broader mes­sage it sends: that a do­mes­tic as­sault that doesn’t break bones or re­sult in a con­cus­sion — a beat­ing that could be hu­mil­i­at­ing, painful and cause deep emo­tional dam­age to the vic­tim — should bring lit­tle or no penalty from the state. It is hard to see how a healthy so­ci­ety and healthy fam­i­lies ben­e­fit when the most vul­ner­a­ble are left ex­posed.

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