Last year, over 75,000 people were prosecuted using domestic violence legislation in the UK alone. It helps to protect people where they should feel the most secure – in their own home with members of their close family. Domestic violence is violence or abuse in a domestic setting such as a marriage or cohabitation arrangement, often involving spouses or former spouses. However, it can involve children, parents, grandparents or anyone else living in the same home. Domestic violence encompasses a vast array of abuse including physical, verbal and emotional as well as psychological, economic, religious and sexual abuse. It can range from beatings to marital rape and genital mutilation leading to death. In the UK, the victims of domestic violence are around twice as likely to be woman, and women tend to experience more severe forms of violence. However, men who experience domestic violence are less likely to come forward and be taken seriously by police and healthcare providers. In 2010, there were sixty refuge places available to men experiencing domestic violence throughout England and Wales, compared to 7,500 similar places for women. This means that the actual number of men experiencing domestic violence is much higher than police records suggest. In fact some suggest that it could be closer or even equal to the number of women.
Russian Domestic Violence
In Russia, 14,000 women die every year from domestic violence induced injuries. Despite this, Russia is one of only three countries in Europe and Central Asia not to have specific domestic violence legislation. Legislation alone cannot solve domestic violence but provides a framework for other areas of support. While Russia of course has laws against the infliction of harm upon others, the only legislation applicable to domestic violence is Article 116 of the Criminal Code. Article 116 focuses on physical assault, labelled as battery or similar violent actions. Previously, breaking Article 116 led to a fine of up to $700 or three months in a detention centre. In 2003, a definition for aggravated battery was added which does not apply to domestic violence and warrants a year of corrective labour, or else 6 months in a detention centre.
The Decriminalisation of Battery
In July 2016, the Russian Supreme Court, passed a bill which decriminalised non-aggravated battery. This included most cases of one-off domestic violence. Originally, this bill made no distinction between battery within and outside of the home. However, on its first reading it was amended so that battery of ‘close persons’ would remain a crime. The bill also decriminalised the threat of murder or serious bodily harm, malicious evasion of payment of funds for the maintenance of children or a disabled parent and the use of forged documents. However, it also introduced measures that classed these as administrative offences which in the case of battery, warranted a fine of at least $90 or only ten to fifteen days in a detention centre. Repeated battery or battery causing severe harm (broken bones) remained criminalised. This bill was met by outrage by several groups within Russia, mostly conservatives, including the Orthodox Church. The outrage was not at the decriminalisation of battery, but at the fact that battery on close persons remained criminalised. Conservatives argues that it was wrong for a parent to receive harsher punishment for beating their child than if a neighbour or stranger was to beat a child. Church officials claimed that their traditions and the Holy Scripture “regard the possibility of reasonable and loving use of physical punishment as an integral part of the established rights of parents by God Himself”. They said that the discriminatory legislation lacked moral pretext and went against Russian cultural and familial values. The key issue was fear that it would lead to greater government involvement in private issues and matters of the home.
Decriminalisation of Domestic Violence
Due to these complaints, the bill was amended again in February of 2017. It removed the clause mentioning ‘close persons’ and included it as an administrative offence. This decriminalised domestic violence, providing it was not repeated and didn’t cause severe harm. The Russian government claimed that it would be wrong to “to identify domestic violence with some insignificant manifestations of abuse”. They also clarified that repeat offences of domestic violence would constitute repeated battery and therefore remain a crime. These new laws do encompass the vast majority of domestic violence cases, but the way the law is structured creates loopholes which potential offenders can exploit. Another key impact of these changes is the psychological impact on victims. The mental effect of being abused by a partner is significant enough that it is incredibly difficult for victims to speak up, and the further difficulty of it now not being classified as a crime is severe. There is also the problem that if victims have the courage to go to the police and fail, they often have to remain with their abuser, and with the removal of compulsory jail time, this could be the case even if they win their case. This has led to a huge decrease in domestic abuse being reported, from 65,543 in 2016, to only 36,037 in 2017, an almost 50% decrease. This is not because the amount of domestic abuse has decreased, as domestic abuse call lines received 35% more calls in 2016 than in 2017, implying that there was in fact an increase as potential offenders have less fear of being accused. The impact of this is exacerbated as it has come at exactly the wrong time. In July 2016, after the initial bill was passed, Anastasia Melnichenko posted a Facebook post with the hashtag #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt. In this post she revealed her past of sexual and domestic abuse. This led to a huge outpour of support and people revealing their own stories, with the hashtag reaching 200,000 posts. The recent ruling has taken the wind out of sails of this movement and put many of the victims who revealed their stories under risk.