Victims of domestic violence face uphill battle for protection in Russia

Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:37am EDT
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Yulia endured three years of almost daily rapes and beatings before she fled her husband with her four children, living for the next year in constant fear he would find them.

"I couldn't live in my flat, even though I owned it," the Moscow hairdresser said, too scared to give her full name.

"For a year I rented, but then we ran out of money," she told Reuters at Moscow's only public shelter for battered women, Nadezhda ("Hope").

Fundamentally conservative and guided by the doctrines of a resurgent Orthodox Church, Russia has no legal protections for women like Yulia, believing that family disputes - even violent ones - should be resolved in the home, behind closed doors.

A new draft law would change that by making clear domestic violence is illegal and laying out the rights of victims in Russian law for the first time. Powerful sponsors include parliamentary deputies from United Russia, the party loyal to President Vladimir Putin that dominates the parliament.

But with Putin aiming to shore up support from conservative voters and the church - his political power base - in the face of popular protests, the draft's fate is uncertain.

"This is a cultural problem, a centuries-old mentality in which the man is the head of the family and others obey him or get punished," said Natalia Pazdnikova, a co-author of the draft law and director of Nadezhda. "Russian women are very patient and enduring, ready to suffer for their children and families."

The draft law would introduce the power to issue restraining orders, a common procedure in the West, and give law enforcement officials more training in dealing with abuse. It would also allow police to compel offenders to undergo counseling, require them to report to police up to four times a month, and provide victims with temporary accommodation.   Continued...