10,000 women in Russia die of domestic violence every year. 40% of all serious violent crime in Russia and over 25% of murders take place in the home. Around 36,000 women are victims of domestic violence every day, and so too are 26,000 children.
These are the official statistics. The real statistics will be far higher. Many women do not report incidents of domestic violence, either for fear of repercussions from their husband or partner, or because complaints are often ignored by the police.
Children have even less chance of securing legal protection against domestic violence.
That provides the context for a new law decriminalising "modest" domestic violence which was voted through by the Russian Parliament (Duma) in January and which was signed off by last week by President Putin.
The new law – in fact an amendment to legislation passed last year – makes domestic violence an administrative rather than a criminal offence, provided that: the violence is being committed for the first time, and it does not result in injuries requiring hospital treatment.
Beatings which cause "only" bruises or bleeding will therefore no longer be a criminal offence.
Under the new law anyone wishing to lodge a complaint about domestic violence must obtain their own doctor’s report and collect other relevant evidence. Previously, the police were obliged, at least in theory, to actively investigate allegations of domestic violence.
The penalty for the administrative offence of domestic violence is a fine of between 5,000 and 30,000 rubles (£412), 60 to120 hours of community work, or 10 to 15 days in jail (“administrative arrest”).
A repeat offender who commits "modest" domestic violence within a year of the first offence faces the penalty of a higher fine (40,000 rubles), longer community service (240 hours), or a longer period of “administrative arrest (3 months).
The downgrading of "modest" domestic violence from a criminal offence to an administrative one was an initiative of Yelena Mizulina, a member of the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party.
According to Mizulina, in traditional Russian families “the relationship between parents and their children is built on authority and power.” Family members should not be criminalised just because of “a slap”. To do so would cause “irreparable damage to family relationships.”
As her proposal was making its way through the Duma, Mizulina tweeted: “How many families will waste police resources while the Duma discusses [the amendment]? There are 20 million families in the Russian Federation. All of them are in danger.”
Mizulina was careful to a fault to define the parameters of her legislative initiative: “It is a matter of beatings which do not require medical intervention, because they do not cause any harm to health. They involve the most minimal family arguments with the most minimal consequences.”
In another speech to the Duma Mizulina defined "modest" domestic violence as “punishments which do not contradict the system of family values.” Decriminalisation would “allow the family to be protected from unfounded interventions” and also protect “the traditional family”.
Mizulina has "form" in defending “the traditional family”. She supports drastic restrictions on abortions (including a ban on abortions without the husband’s consent) and a ban on "gay propaganda". She opposes surrogate pregnancies and what she calls the “paedophile lobby”. And she advocates a tax on divorce and state propaganda to encourage bigger families.
Along with delegates from pro-fascist and anti-semitic organisations, in November of 2013 Mizulina – who believes that the statement “gays are people too” constitutes political extremism – attended a conference in Leipzig entitled “For the Future of the Family. Are European Nations Threatened with Extinction?”
As Mizulina’s "reform" passed through its three readings in the Duma, the number of votes cast against it varied between one and three. A proposed amendment that children and pregnant women should be excluded from the new law was also voted down by the Duma.
According to one of the United Russia parliamentary leaders, the new law proves that “the Duma is not heading along the road of putting pressure on the family.” According to the leader of the more right-wing LDPR, the law “does not destroy but preserves the family. The way to stop beatings is to marry for love.”
And according to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s commission on family matters, state intervention into internal family matters was “a western imposition”, and “not even Hitler could have dreamt up some of the things happening now in northern Europe.”
An article in Komsomolskaya Pravda explained: “Recent scientific studies show the wives of angry men have a reason to be proud of their bruises. Biologists say that beaten-up women have a valuable advantage: they more often give birth to boys.”
(This appeared in the "science" section of the newspaper, but was amended after protests.)
Maria Mamikonyan, leader of the Russian Parental Resistance campaign supported Mizulina’s proposal because it was ridiculous to “criminalise ordinary educational slaps, which almost all families use to let children know their limits.”
At a press conference held last December Putin himself decried the use of violence to resolve family arguments, but then went on to declare that “unceremonious interference with the family is impermissible.”
There was certainly opposition to the legislative "reform", albeit from outside of the Duma. A petition against decriminalisation attracted some 200,000 signatures. But repeated plans for a demonstration in Moscow were blocked by the authorities.
Under the Legal Code adopted by the Bolsheviks in 1922 the centuries-long sanctioning of domestic violence in Tsarist legislation was abolished. Domestic violence ceased to a "different kind" of violence.
Putin’s decriminalisation of "modest" domestic violence is another sign of how backward-looking and reactionary his politics are, as too are his own invocations of "traditional Russian values".