Russian President Signs Law To Decriminalize Domestic Violence

Feb 16, 2017
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In Russia, President Vladimir Putin recently signed legislation that decriminalizes domestic violence. The vote by Russia's lower house of Parliament to change the criminal code was not close. It was 380 to 3. Now a husband who hits his wife or children will face an administrative fine. He'll face criminal prosecution only if he repeats the offense. As NPR's Lucian Kim found out, both sides of the debate say they are trying to protect families.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: At the end of a snowy path is one of a handful of women's shelters serving the Moscow metropolitan area. This shelter is a two-story house an hour's drive from the city center.

(CROSSTALK)

KIM: Five women and nine children have sought refuge here. I meet the mother of a 2-month-old baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY COOING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She asks me not to reveal her name since her abusive boyfriend is still trying to find her. The woman says the police tried to convince her not to report him. And the new law, she says, makes things even worse.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "The law mentions one blow," the mother says, "but with one blow, you can kill someone."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "What kind of husbands, what kind of families will we have with that law," she asks. "What kind of relationships will we have in our society? Is that normal?"

In Russia, there are no restraining orders, and the law doesn't distinguish between spousal abuse and disciplining children. Under the new law, any domestic violence becomes a crime only for repeat offenders. The director of the shelter, Alyona Sadikova, says women tend only to report violence after multiple beatings anyway. The shelter is situated on the grounds of a Russian orthodox monastery which also provides material support to the women and children there.

ALYONA SADIKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Sadikova says she's orthodox Christian and that she believes her church would never support any form of violence, but that runs counter to the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church which has come out in favor of the new law. The church leadership says that especially in instances of corporal punishment, parents should be able to determine how to discipline their children as long as they use, quote, "moderate and reasonable force."

Olga Batalina is 1 of 2 female co-authors of the bill in the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament. Both women declined an interview with NPR, but Batalina defended the law on the floor of Parliament last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLGA BATALINA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Batalina said that cases of unpremeditated battery in which nobody intends to inflict significant harm on another person should be treated as an administrative offense. That outrages women's activists like Alyona Popova, who is working with lawyers on an alternative bill to present to lawmakers. Popova says the new law sends the completely wrong signal.

ALYONA POPOVA: They should protect the victims and not the oppressor. And now, according to that law, we protect the oppressor. Look; it's crazy.

KIM: Back at the shelter, Alyona Sadikova says the law as it stands now is riddled with holes.

SADIKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "What distinguishes Russia in terms of domestic violence," Sadikova says, "is that awareness of the problem is still not high enough." Sadikova is not advocating that men who hit their partners should automatically go to jail. She says what Russia really needs is a network of crisis centers and legal mechanisms that would enable courts to issue restraining orders.

SADIKOVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "We're moving slower than other countries," says Sadikova, "but we'll get there in the end."

RUSLAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: As I get ready to leave, I run into Ruslan, a 12-year-old resident of the shelter. He's eager to perform a rap he's composed.

RUSLAN: (Rapping in Russian).

KIM: It's all about his dad, how much he misses him and wants him to be close.

RUSLAN: (Rapping in Russian).

KIM: Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEAT BEATS SONG, "TURNING ON THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.