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Domestic abuse is not always criminal in Russia

In Russia, a woman is killed by domestic violence every 40 minutes, according to data from the Russian government. But earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that downgrades “moderate” violence, causing bruises or bleeding once a year, from a criminal offense to an administrative one. Special Correspondent Nick Schifrin reports on the effects from Moscow.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Anna Zhavnerovich invited me into her home because she’s not silent. And she doesn’t want other victims of domestic violence to be silent either.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Why do you think it’s important to tell your story?

  • Anna Zhavnerovich

    : To kill the culture of silence that exists in Russia. So that other women won’t be scared to say what happened to them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    What happened to Zhavnerovich is that in December 2014 her live-in boyfriend beat her up on the night they broke up.

  • Anna Zhavnerovich:

    I woke up and he was sitting on me holding down my arms and legs. He starts hitting me in the face and head, saying he wants to mutilate me. I lost consciousness after about 20 blows. When I woke up, he told me that I shouldn’t tell anyone.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Zhavnerovich story is common. 1 in 5 Russian women are physically abused, and 14-thousand are killed in domestic violence each year, according to the Russian government. That fatality rate is more than 20 times the rate in the U.S. Zhavnerovich says the cause is a patriarchal violent culture combined with the devastating impact of World War Two, which cost the lives of approximately 20 million Soviet men.

  • Anna Zhavnerovich:

    Women had to raise children alone, take care of the household alone, and there were a lot of sayings born like, “He’s bad, but he’s still a man.” If you had a man you were very lucky, no matter what he did to you. That’s a trauma, and the culture of silence grew from the trauma.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For victims, there are few safe spaces. Which makes this place on the outskirts of Moscow, a sanctuary. This woman and her two daughters live at a church-funded shelter for victims of domestic violence. In their case, the violence was inflicted by multiple family members.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: How did your husband and your mother-in-law abuse you?

  • Name Withheld:

    His mother dragged me by the hair across the floor. Then she hit me punched me in the face almost every day. And in the end, my husband’s hands got loose as well. He would hit me in the face.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The free shelter gives her kids a sense of security. But she doesn’t feel safe. She asked us to hide her identity because she fears her husband is trying to find her.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you feel safe here?

  • Name Withheld:

    Not really. Because my husband is a very clever man. He has reported me as a missing person, looking for me through the police. Here, I’m always looking out of the window, fearing he will come with the police. I am always scared.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Victims often fear, and distrust police, says shelter administrator Natalya Feshenko.

  • Natalya Feshenko:

    When a woman calls the police and says, ‘My husband is killing me,” they respond by saying, ‘Call us when he kills you.”

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That’s actually what happened last November to 36-year-old Yana Savchuk. She recorded herself calling the local police in a town 200 miles south of Moscow calmly asking for help. In response, the officer — a woman — mocked her. The officer says, “If he kills you, we’ll certainly come to examine the dead body.” 45 minutes later, her boyfriend killed her.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In June last year, Russia passed a law making domestic abuse a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. But this year, the Russian Parliament eased the penalties. Now, if domestic abusers don’t break bones, and don’t commit abuse more than once a year, they can be sentenced to only 15 days in jail, or they can avoid jail entirely by paying a 500 dollar fine.

  • Anna Kulchitskaya:

    The previous version punished relatives harsher than if the physical abuse came from a non-relative, like a teacher or a doctor.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Anna Kulchitskaya defends the new law. She, as well as President Vladimir Putin and their allies in the Russian Orthodox Church, say they wanted to limit state meddling in family life.

  • Anna Kulchitskaya:

    We think it was causing serious damage to the traditional family. And destruction of the family is the destruction of the country. There is a policy of forcing Western values and Western techniques. These are mostly being repelled by traditional Russian values because the Western values are perceived as strange, wild, and irritating. We want to stay Russian.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But shelter administrator Feshenko says the new law has already given men permission to abuse.

  • Natalya Feshenko:

    We have a lot more people in our center than before. This is already evidence that the freedom to beat up has begun. Before, if he was punished seriously, he would think twice about whether to hit her again. Now he will hit her again, calmly. It unties hands.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    900 miles east of Moscow, in the city of Ufa…Yevgeniya Zakhar is trying to help women who are beaten by those untied hands. She is replacing taboos with tattoos. She’s a tattoo artist who covers up scars, bruises, and burns from domestic violence, free of charge.

  • Yevgeniya Zakhar:

    They come here as one person and they leave here another person. When they have a scar, they feel ugly, even if the scar is small. But when you have a tattoo, it’s always beautiful and tender.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When she first started, the response was overwhelming. Hundreds of victims asked for help. Today, she sees victims once a week, including Tatiana Tukina. She says her ex-boyfriend stabbed her 3 times and shattered a glass bottle on her. She asked for a flower tattoo.

  • Tatiana Tukina:

    I really like flowers and because pink is a very tender color.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And up until that was drawn on you when you looked down at your legs, what did you think about?

  • Tatiana Tukina:

    About that pain that I used to feel.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The flowers took a couple of hours. What she’s most excited about is not having to wear the black tights she has covered her legs with for 4 years.

  • Tatiana Tukina:

    You really don’t feel the scars when you don’t see them. Thanks to Zhenya for the tattoo.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For Zakhar, these are the moments that convince her the new domestic violence law punishes the victims.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The people who defend the law say that domestic violence should be handled within the family.

  • Yevgeniya Zakhar:

    I agree with the saying, “Don’t dump your trash outside your own home.” But those defenders of the law just haven’t seen what I’ve seen. These young women’s lives and bodies are ruined. What can one say to the people that passed this law? God forbid you to find yourself in the victim’s shoes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In some areas, the law has had one unexpected consequence. Zhavnerovich says it encourages victims to come forward.

  • Anna Zhavnerovich:

    Why are women afraid to go to police? They are afraid to be left without a provider, that their husbands will go to jail. When it’s only administrative punishment, it takes away the psychological barrier, and women will start to tell police about what happened to them.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Zhavnerovich not only went to the police. She wrote a magazine article about what happened. And suddenly, hundreds of women contacted her. So she kept writing, and she says that’s changed the culture.

  • Anna Zhavnerovich:

    Before, when they talked about domestic violence, it was “shut up” or “it’s your own fault.” Material that I published has broken this circle of silence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But she knows many Russian women don’t have her public outlet, or her courage.

  • Anna Zhavnerovich:

    I know that’s in contrast with other women who have no social capital. I used mine to talk about the authorities, talk about how to defend yourself, so it would be easier for others. Because most women’s resources are much more limited.

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