Opinions

Domestic abuse hinders development

by Jessica Kraker

It is shocking to fathom that domestic abuse is now permissible by law in Russia even though it has a negative association in many modernized nations. Russia’s parliament has begun to decriminalize domestic violence, an action that should not be tolerated.

The Duma has approved an amendment that completely removes domestic abuse from the criminal code with a vote of 380 to three. Referred to as the “slapping law,” it decriminalizes “battery within families.” A first time offender—someone who is classified as an individual who beats a family member, but not to the point of hospitalization—only has to either pay a $500 fine, serve 15 days in jail or do 120 hours of community service as a penalty. Harsher charges can only be sentenced if another offense is committed within the same year.

This seems completely backward for a number of reasons. First, almost half of all violent crimes in Russia have to do with domestic violence, so domestic abuse is a crime that should not be taken lightly. Softening the law would probably lead to an increase in the amount of domestic violence because offenders would no longer fear the harsh punishments or repercussions.

The police did not have much power to begin with and now they will have be taken even less seriously because they can no longer threaten offenders with jail time. The victims are not in a better state either.

The psychological impacts of that type of childhood are infinite. They might never live a normal lifestyle because of low self-esteem. They might continue the cycle of violence within their own family one day. They might turn to crime or suicide to get away from that atmosphere.

Then there are women. According to a BBC article, 600,000 women in Russia are physically and verbally abused every year. 14,000 of those women die from their injuries, averaging a total of 40 deaths a day.

When the article came out in 2013, there was only one 35-room refugee house for battered women in all of Moscow, a city whose population boasted 12 million people at the time. Abused women often have no place to stay or take their children to for safety.

Legal help is even harder to obtain. The police did not have much power in stopping conflicts either, according to police inspector Andrei Levchuk. If they did not witness an attack, the most they could do is caution the offender from doing it again. Therefore, women are left to feel bewildered and powerless.

According to The Economist, debate over the issue of domestic violence came up in 2016 when the Duma decriminalized battery, which is considered the least violent form of assault in Russia. Unlike most countries in Europe and Central Asia, Russia does not have laws that specifically isolate domestic violence, so many people were afraid that it would be lumped in with battery. However, the Duma instead made it separate and subject to a two-year maximum sentence.

Russian officials who favor the change believe that the government has intervened in family matters for too long and that this law will help create a stronger family unit since they will be left to sort matters out themselves.

Parents, especially, will be able to discipline their children as they see fit. Other proponents say that women are now more likely to speak up about their abuse because they know their partners will not be sent to Russia’s harsh prisons.

The law also fits with traditional values of the Russian Orthodox Church who were furious about the two-year sentence that was decided on last year. They see “the reasonable and loving use of physical punishment as an essential part of the rights given to parents by God himself.” This fits in with the traditional themes President Vladimir Putin is known for supporting.

This kind of progress is contradictory. A Russian saying reads: “If he beats you it means he loves you.” If that is what Russian officials believe, they need to re-evaluate what matters more—having a country of healthy and happy people or having a country of hopeless victims. Only one of those options will allow Russia to prosper.

February 13, 2017

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