Russia’s blow to women
Moscow sends a message that domestic brutality is legitimate.
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.