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In Russia, Domestic Violence May No Longer Be A Crime

The lower arm of the Russian Parliament — otherwise called the Duma — voted on Friday, January 27, to decriminalize domestic violence and strike it out of the country’s criminal code. Parliamentarians voted 380-3 in favor of the bill’s third reading following a slew of positive comments from senior officials.

As in every political system with some semblance of democracy, the bill will move up to the upper house of the Parliament and if it garners enough votes — largely predicted to be — it moves on to President Putin’s table for executive approval.

Opinions about the usefulness of such a public policy are as diverse as the people who hold them. While the government is of the opinion that it will help support families as the government has no business intervening in family issues, critics, on the other hand, say that it will only worsen the problem of domestic abuse, which has left many victims in its wake, and juvenile excesses that usually culminates in the separation of children from their parents.

One of the fine points from critics is that the new law will reduce the opportunities for victims of child abuse to defend themselves. As a quick context, in 2015 there were 49,579 crimes involving violence in the family, with 35,899 of this figure involving a woman.

If eventually passed, the law will reverse a Supreme Court ruling last year — to which the Parliament gave its nod — which decriminalized battery that does not inflict bodily harm, but retained criminal charges involving battery against families. As a result, that legal decision created a lacuna that the new law seeks to cover.

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The Russian Parliament, or Duma as it is popularly called. Image by TASS via Getty Images/Anton Novoderezhkin

In line with this, the author of the bill, Olga Batalina, said that their aim with the new law was to close the loophole that ensued from the Supreme Court decision last year. She was supported in this by Elena Mizulina, the revolutionary senator who wrote a controversial law against gay propaganda in 2013 and other conservatives, all united in their outrage against what they perceived to be a legal inconsistency.

The Russian Orthodox Church weighed in with its support since, in the opinion of the church, a moment of loving but physical correction of a child or children by its parents shouldn’t be a criminal matter prompting a fear of state agencies.

In the new bill, the amendment reduces the penalty for first-time assault of a family member that does not cause serious injury, whether a spouse or children, from two years in jail to a paltry monetary fine of 30,000 rubles ($500 USD) or 15 days of community service. The bill calls this an “administrative offense.”

However, if the victim is severely harmed to the point of needing medical care, it will be categorized under existing assault rules and so lead to criminal charges. This also applies if the offender repeats the offense within the next year.

According to CNBC, close to 9,000 women died in 2013 at the hands of their spouses or close relatives. Domestic violence is also responsible for close to a quarter of all Russian families and accounts for 40 percent of all violent crime, according to the Federal Service for State Statistics.

This certainly explains why the bill does not enjoy significant support among the citizenry. According to a poll by state-run VTSIOM, 79 percent are clearly against all forms of physical violence as acceptable in a family setting. When it came to punishment, 59 percent of Russians overtly support administrative rather than criminal punishment for battery if it is the only offense.

The bill has been roundly criticized by different local and international human right agencies, including the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Watch. Individual activists, such as Anna Popova, have also been active in fighting the emergence of the bill as a law. Popova has gathered close to 240,000 signatures in an online petition wherein she called for the bill to not be passed.

[Featured Image by TASS via Getty Images/Vladimir Gerdo]

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