December 1997                                                                          Vol.9, No.13 (D)



Order Online

To the Russian Government
To the United States Government
To the United Nations
To the European Union
To the OSCE
To the Council of Europe
To the World Bank

Women and the Workplace
Women and Politics
ViolenceAgainst Women and the Absence of Reliable Statistics
Growth of the Women'sRights Movement


Sexual Violence
Domestic Violence

Processing of Complaints
Refusal of Complaints
Mistreatment of Victims
Forensic Examinations
Delayed Referrals
Inaccessibility of Doctors
Inadequate and AbusiveExaminations
Unwillingness to Investigate
Invasions of Privacy
Biased Use of PsychologicalInterviews
TraumatizingUse of Face-to-face Confrontations
Failure to Protect Complainants
Closing of Cases Priorto Trial

Lack of Civil Remedies
Lack of Shelter

U.S. Policy
European Policy




Here a woman's dignity does not have any value.
-Zoya Khotkina
Moscow Center for Gender Studies
Moscow, April 25, 1996

In March 1995, Human Rights Watch released Neither Jobs Nor Justice,a report documenting widespread employment discrimination on the basisof sex that was practiced, condoned, and tolerated by the Russian government.The report also described how Russian law enforcement agencies routinelydenied women their right to equal protection of the law by failing to investigateand prosecute violence against women. In April 1996, we returned to Russiato further research this problem. This report examines in-depth the stateresponse to sexual violence outside the home as well as to sexual and otherviolence by intimate partners inside the home.

Violence against women is a pervasive problem in Russia. According togovernment statistics, nearly 11,000 women reported rape or attempted rapein 1996; the government simply does not gather statistics on women assaultedor killed by their partners. Yekaterina Lakhova, President Yeltsin's advisoron women's issues, has estimated that 14,000 women in Russia are killedby husbands or family members each year. These statistics, however, byno means document the extent of the problem of gender-based violence. Accordingto women's rights activists, only about 5 to 10 percent of rape victimsreport to the police, and the rate of reporting by domestic violence victimsis even lower. While myriad factors contribute to a victim's decision toreport or to remain silent, Human Rights Watch found that the inadequacyof the government's response to victims of violence plays a significantrole in perpetuating the silence and underreporting.

The government of Russia fails to afford victims of violence the protectionof the law required by the international human rights treaties to whichRussia is a party. Although Russian law criminalizes acts that constitutesexual or domestic violence, Human Rights Watch found that Russian lawenforcement does not effectively ensure that incidents of violence againstwomen are actually investigated and prosecuted, and in fact has sometimesobstructed their investigation and prosecution. This discrepancy betweenthe law as written and the law as applied demonstrates Russia's failureto fulfill its international human rights obligations. By tolerating violenceagainst women, Russia has failed not only to ensure rights guaranteed towomen in relevant international treaties but to enforce its own laws ina nondiscriminatory manner.

Our researchers visited Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation,and St. Petersburg, the second largest city in the Russian Federation.We also visited Sergeyev Posad, formerly Zagorsk, a city near Moscow; Murmansk,a military port in the northwest of Russia countries; and Nizhni Tagil,an industrial city in the Ural mountains. We collected testimony from womenwho had experienced sexual or domestic violence. We spoke with activistswho work with female victims of violence, police officers, prosecutors,and forensic doctors. Our researchers also met with several present andformer members of the State Duma. Based on this research, Human RightsWatch found that rather than combatting violence against women, the Russianlaw enforcement system creates numerous and substantial obstacles towardthat end. Human Rights Watch documented that from the moment that victimsof violence first seek out the legal system until the close of their cases,these women consistently confront hostility, reluctance, and bias againsttheir cases.

Our research revealed that police and prosecutors typically reject ordiscourage complaints, suggesting that female complainants either provokedor fabricated attacks and thus were not truly victims. In the limited instanceswhen victims' complaints were accepted, this skepticism or hostility nonethelesspersisted, manifesting in flawed investigations. The investigations entailseemingly irrelevant and unnecessarily invasive and broad inquiries intovictims' reputations and sexual histories. Investigations also impose anumber of other dubious requirements that appear to hold complainants ofsexual or other violence to a higher degree of scrutiny than is the casefor complainants of other types of crimes. These requirements include extensivepsychological interviews of victims and traumatizing face-to-face confrontationsbetween victims and alleged offenders. In keeping with their general insensitivityor lack of concern for violence victims, law enforcement officials alsoroutinely fail, during investigations, to protect complainants and theirfamilies from harassment by alleged offenders and their friends who aimto dissuade the victims from pursuing their cases.

Human Rights Watch also discovered serious failings in the government'scollection of forensic evidence, evidence which is a practical requirementin the prosecution of sexual assault cases in Russia. In many instances,we found, police deny or unnecessarily delay giving women the officialreferrals necessary for examinations at government-run evidence centers.This unwarranted interference with prompt examinations is especially egregiousbecause of the transient nature of forensic evidence and its critical importance,particularly in cases of sexual assault. Even when victims do undergo forensicexaminations, we discovered that they still encounter substantial difficultyin securing meaningful evidence. Many of the forensic examinations aresorely inadequate, revealing a bias against women who are not virgins.Instead of collecting evidence to document the extent and severity of women'sinjuries and to identify offenders, many doctors focus exclusively on thehymen to determine whether and when it was broken.

Despite the flaws in the investigative process, Human Rights Watch foundthat all the municipalities that it researched boast perfect or near-perfectconviction rates for crimes of sexual violence. The apparent success inprosecuting such crimes is misleading, however. Upon closer examinationthese figures suggest a practice of closing all but the most foolproofof cases. The probable corollary to this practice is that cases that arenot foolproof are abandoned.

Human Rights Watch also documented the particular difficulties facedby victims of domestic violence. Because law enforcement officials resisteven recognizing that domestic violence is a crime, many police officersrefuse to respond to women's calls for help. In the limited instance whenthe police do respond, they often will hold the batterer, if at all, foronly a brief period of time and release him unattended; after the release,the battering usually resumes. Human Rights Watch found that the police'sfailure to respond is particularly egregious because, at this time, criminalsanctions are the only legal protection available to battered women inRussia: Russia has no civil protection regime that would allow women tosecure state-enforced protection orders from batterers without pursuingcriminal charges.

Human Rights Watch found that the severe shortage of battered women'sshelters--there are only two in all of Russia--and of affordable housingfurther contributes to the physical and mental endangerment of domesticviolence victims. The absence of alternative housing options means thatwomen are substantially restricted in their ability to escape violent partners.In many cases, battered women, even those who have divorced their violentpartners, and their children have no choice but to live in the same apartmentwith their batterers. Although Russian law appears to provide some housingremedies--such as eviction of violent household members or apartment division--fordomestic violence victims, Human Rights Watch found that these remediesare available primarily in theory and rarely in practice.

As a result of significant pressure from Russian women's rights advocatesand international publicity, the government of the Russian Federation hasbegun to acknowledge the gravity of the problem of violence against womenand has indicated a desire to improve protections for women. In February1996, the Yeltsin administration published a policy document or white paperon improving the position of women in the Russian Federation. Issued inresponse to the recommendations of the 1995 United Nation Fourth WorldConference on the Status of Women in Beijing, this white paper called forthe government to conduct an assessment of Russian legislation and to developproposals for revisions necessary to guarantee women's rights. Stressingthat violence should be prohibited in all spheres of life including workplaceand home, the government pledged in the white paper to collect full andobjective statistics relating to violence against women, to coordinateits efforts with nongovernmental women's crisis centers, and to developcriminal and civil sanctions for violence against women. In June 1996,President Yeltsin issued Decree 932, "On the Development of a NationalPlan of Action to Improve the Position of Women and Raise their Role inSociety Before the Year 2000." This decree seeks to facilitate implementationof resolutions made at the Beijing conference and orders a draft plan tobe developed.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the situation of women encounteringviolence will actually improve. Based on current indications, the prospectsappear doubtful. For example, the 1997 budget adopted by the State Duma,the lower house of parliament, allocates no money toward implementing thegoals outlined in the 1996 white paper and decree. The new criminal, labor,and family law codes, all adopted in the past two years, moreover, do littleto improve the protection of women's human rights, particularly in regardto violence. Even the most ambitious step by the government, the draftingof a family violence law by the State Duma, is seriously flawed. As manywomen's groups, which have encountered substantial difficulty in accessingand commenting on drafts of the law, point out, the proposed law threatensto mitigate criminal penalties for violence, endangers the existence ofindependent women's crisis centers, and fails to create a civil protectionregime. If the past and the present are any indication of the future, itappears that the outlook for the lives of real women in Russia, ratherthan the ones envisioned by current political rhetoric, remains bleak.


To the Russian Government

Interior Ministry


To the United States Government

To the United Nations

To the European Union

To the OSCE

To the Council of Europe

To the World Bank

1. Rape kits are designed to collect evidence ofrape and sexual assault from the victim's body and contain items such asseparate evidence bags for vaginal swabs, rectal swabs, pulled head hairs,saliva samples, pubic hair combings, outer clothing, foreign materials,and underwear.