There’s an old Russian proverb that says: “If he beats you it means he loves you.”
On Feb. 7, President Putin signed a controversial bill which decriminalizes domestic violence to first-time offenders who do not cause serious bodily harm to their partners, claiming that law shouldn’t interfere with family affairs.
Under the bill, abusers would face a fine of roughly $500 or a 15-day arrest only if the victim is hospitalized with broken bones or a concussion. Russia is infamous for having severely traditional views on gender and sexual equality, and is one of three countries in Europe and Central Asia that do not have laws specifically targeting domestic violence, according to The Economist.
The bill received little support, a survey this month showing only 19 percent said “it can be acceptable” to hit one’s wife, husband or child “ in certain circumstances.”
Communist lawmaker Yuri Sinelshchikov argued against the bill, warning the bill would establish violence as a normal. Women’s rights lawyer Mari Davtyan told the Moscow Times that the legislative moves are dangerous and “send a message that the state doesn’t consider familial battery fundamentally wrong anymore.”
Alyona Popova, activist and women’s rights advocate, lamented that this attitude is widespread in Russia, The Moscow Times reported. “Traditional, or rather archaic values have become popular again,” she said.
Ultra-conservative and sponsor of the bill, Yelena Mizulina said publicly she believes women “don’t take offense when they see a man beating his wife” and that “a man beating his wife is less offensive than when a woman humiliates a man.”
Mizulina also said that Russian law should support family traditions that are “built on the authority or the parents power,” and that parents should be allowed to hit their children.
Even Russian police are reluctant to interfere with domestic violence cases. Unfortunately, this victim-blaming mindset in Russia is already leading to fatalities. A police officer is being investigated after a woman was beaten to death by her husband, despite the fact that she reported his aggressive behavior to police. The officer reportedly told the woman they would only come if she got killed.
“Passage of this law would be a huge step backward for Russia, where victims of domestic violence already face enormous obstacles to getting help or justice,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The domestic violence bill would reduce penalties for abusers and put victims’ lives at even greater risk.”
In a 2005 study of 2,200 people in 50 towns and cities across Russia, 70 percent of women said they had been subjected to at least one form of violence – physical, sexual, economic, or psychological – by their husbands, and 36 percent experienced both physical and psychological violence, according to Human Rights Watch.
Failure to adequately protect victims of domestic violence and ensure access to justice violates Russia’s international human rights obligations.
The bill closely resembles the advice adults often give young girls when they complain that boys are teasing them: “They’re only doing it because they like you.” This common idea that “boys will be boys” and are not reprimanded for their entitled behavior is setting men up to feel inclined to power and dominance as they get older.
This type of playground etiquette is distasteful and should be eradicated from our vocabulary. Regardless of age, males should be taught to treat women equally and with respect. Old traditions may die hard, but justifying abuse is undoubtedly inhumane and should never be tolerated.