In Russia an estimated 12,000 women die annually from domestic violence, according to government statistics, which equates to about one woman dying every 40 minutes. Nonetheless, President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed into law a highly contentious amendment decriminalizing violence against family members. Providing no bones are broken and the incident doesn’t occur more than once a year, beatings will now carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 days, or simply a fine. Prior to the signing of the amendment, such attacks would previously have been considered battery and the perpetrator would have faced up to two years behind bars.
More than 85 percent of legislators in Russia’s Duma approved the bill last month with proponents suggesting it would help bolster “traditional family values.” Speaking to CNN, a member of the Russian Duma, Vitaly Milonov, explained, “I don’t think that we should violate the rights of family and sometimes a man and a woman, wife and husband, have a conflict … Sometimes in this conflict they use, I don’t know, a frying pan, uncooked spaghetti, and so on. Frankly speaking what we call home violence is not home violence — it’s sort of a new picture of family relations created by liberal media.”
The bill has also garnered the support of the Russian Orthodox Church, which says it holds the family as sacred. Speaking on TV, priest Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy’s commission on family matters, suggested state interference in family matters was an example of Western interventionism impinging on Russian values. “Some of the things happening in northern Europe now are such that even Hitler couldn’t have dreamed them up,” he said.
Human Rights Watch tried to persuade parliament to reject the law which, it said, represented a huge step backward for Russia. Yulia Gorbunova, the organization’s Russia researcher, said it was already difficult for victims of domestic violence to seek help in Russia and the new law would “put victims’ lives at even greater risk.” According to official statistics, around 40 percent of all violent crimes in Russia are committed within the family.