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VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN RUSSIA

The law doesn't protect women. If a woman goes to the police and tells them that she is being beaten by her husband or partner, the police say, "But he didn't kill you yet."91

The Russian government, and particularly its law enforcement agencies, have denied women's right to equal protection of the law by failing to investigate and prosecute violence against women, including domestic violence and sexual assault.92 According to victims and activists working on their behalf, local law enforcement officials scoff at reports of violence by domestic partners and refuse to intervene in what they identify as "family matters." In some instances, police themselves mistreat and harass women who report such crimes as a way to intimidate them and stop them from filing complaints.

In March 1994 the Women's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch sent a mission to Russia to investigate government participation in illegal discrimination, including in the administration of criminal justice, against women.93 The assumption that the introduction of democratic processes and a market economy in Russia will improve the protection of human rights generally in Russia has in some aspects, such as people's ability to exercise their freedom of association or speech, proven to be true. But women's human rights, far from being better protected in a rapidly changing Russia, are being violated and denied.

Women's rights activists, lawyers and even government officials recognize that violence against women is prevalent in Russia. Spousal abuse, in particular, is not only widespread but also largely accepted. Official statistics indicate that every fifth person killed in Russia is killed by a spouse,and the majority of those killed by their spouses are women.94 Despite recognition of the problem, the state, and particularly its law enforcement agencies, have done little to denounce domestic violence as a crime or to investigate allegations of domestic violence. Wanda Dabasevich of the recently established St. Petersburg Human Rights Center told Human Rights Watch about a woman who "complained to the police for one year [about her husband's attacks], and they never even talked to her husband."95 In March 1994 the Center was pursuing two cases of victims of domestic violence. According to Ms. Dabasevich, "Both women went to the police. The police said they would talk with their husbands, but they didn't. The police never even wrote out a formal complaint."96

Domestic violence is not the only form of violence against women that has been overlooked rather than investigated by the Russian criminal justice system. Women who have suffered sexual assault and rape, whether at home, on the job or in the streets, have reported police indifference and even hostility toward their claims.97 According to Natalia Gaidarenko,founder of the independent Moscow Sexual Assault Recovery Center, "One lawyer admitted that the police rarely believe a rape victim."98

Russian authorities' failure to investigate and prosecute effectively battery and rape in the home and their biased response to rape victims establish a pattern of discriminatory treatment by the criminal justice system of female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Such treatment violates Russia's international obligations to guarantee that its female citizens enjoy equal protection of the law and civil and political rights without discrimination. Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for "the equal treatment of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights . . . ." Article 26 further provides that "all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law." Furthermore, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) obligates states parties "to pursue a policy of eliminating discrimination . . . to refrain from engaging in any act of discrimination...[and] to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation."

Such biased treatment of female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault also is prohibited by the terms of the Russia Constitution, which guarantees all Russian citizens equality under the law. The constitution states that, "Men and Women have equal rights and freedoms and equal possibilities for their implementation."99

Domestic violence and sexual assault and the state's unresponsiveness to such attacks on women are far from new. During the Soviet era, the problem of spousal abuse was ignored by the press and seldom was raised in public fora. Soviet police reflected societal attitudes by refusing to intervene in cases of domestic violence.100

Police refusal to investigate claims of domestic violence persists in today's Russia. As the cases below indicate, police also have failed to investigate claims of sexual assault. As police officials point out, crime in general is on the rise in Russia; police are overwhelmed, and law enforcement in general is lagging. But, women who are turned away by police are not told that investigating their claims may take a long time due to the backlog ofwork. Rather, they are told by police that the attacks against them are not problems for law enforcement officials at all.

Although officials claim and press reports record that violent crime against both women and men is increasing in Russia,101 the testimonies in this section reveal that the state has refused to protect women from violence because it does not take crimes against them seriously.

91 Interview, Marina Pisklakova, coordinator of Moscow Trust Line for battered women, Moscow, March 14, 1994.

92 The following material was adapted from Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project, "Neither Jobs Nor Justice: State Discrimination Against Women in Russia," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 5 (March 1995).

93 We interviewed several women who had tried unsuccessfully to report domestic or sexual abuse to the police. The counselors of newly established crisis hotlines in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg provided us with further documentation on both the scale of domestic violence and sexual assault and the police's lack of responsiveness to women's reports of such attacks.

94 Statistics cited by a representative from the Ministry of Social Welfare, meeting at the Union of Russian Jurists, the Commission on Women's Issues, March 22, 1994.

95 Interview, St. Petersburg, March 27, 1994.

96 Ibid.

97 At least one cause of the failure to respond to reports of rape is the widespread belief among Russian police that women are often to blame for such attacks. Interview, Natasha Khodireva, psychologist and founder of St. Petersburg hotline, St. Petersburg, March 27, 1994. Worse still, a study conducted at the end of the Soviet period offers evidence that members of the judiciary share the tendency to blame the victim in cases of sexual assault, resulting in a criminal justice system biased against rape victims. Valerie Sperling, "Rape and Domestic Violence . . .," pp. 16-22. The founder of Moscow's sexual assault hotline told Human Rights Watch about the case of a woman who called her in December 1993: "She had called a private firm to inquire about a job opening. The director [of the firm] made an appointment with her at the end of the day. When she arrived in his office, he locked the door and tried to force her to perform oral sex. He ripped her clothes and hit her. When she went to the police, they told her it was hopeless to file a complaint because it would be impossible to prove her allegations. Then the police suggested that, if she bribed them, they would conduct an investigation. She didn't file a complaint with the police." Interview, Natalia Gaidarenko, Moscow, March 22, 1994. In every instance of sexual assault reported to the police that Human Rights Watch gathered from hotlines in Moscow and St. Petersburg, women were similarly taunted or harassed by police.

98 Natalia Gaidarenko, "'Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears': Sexual Assault in Russia," Initiatives in the New Independent States (newsletter), Spring/Summer 1994.

99 Russian Constitution, Article 19.

100 Valerie Sperling, "Rape and Domestic Violence in the USSR," Response, Volume 13, Number 3 (1990).

101 Steven Erlanger, "Russia's New Dictatorship of Crime," New York Times, May 15, 1994; Aleksandr Golov, "Crime and Safety in the Public Consciousness," Izvestia (Moscow), July 23, 1993, p. 4.

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