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Dispatches: Russia - Domestic Violence Victims Need Legal Protection

New Law Can Help End Epidemic of Violence Against Women

In September last year, Marem Aliyeva vanished from her home in Ingushetia, in Russia’s North Caucasus. Over the years Marem, 35, had filed multiple complaints to the police, detailing how her husband beat her. But the police would not budge. “We don’t get involved in family matters,“ local police told her.

The day she disappeared, Aliyeva called her elder sister, Elizaveta, in tears. Her husband, “M“, had threatened to punish her for running away and complaining to the authorities. Elizaveta drove to her sister’s house and found Marem’s young children alone, crying.

Marem was 23 when she married “M“, after he kidnapped her to be his bride. After 12 years of marriage, she could take no more. Last July, Marem fled the family home with her two children and stayed in a shelter for women in Minsk, Belarus. Several days later, a group of men dragged Elizaveta into a car, beat her, and forced her to reveal her sister’s whereabouts. A month later, “M“ drove to the crisis centre and forced his wife to come home.

It’s almost a year since Marem went missing, and the police are now investigating her disappearance as murder “by unknown persons.“ Meanwhile, “M“ is in custody for kidnapping Elizaveta, and Elizaveta receives regular threats from “M“s relatives.

Olga Gnezdilova, Elizaveta’s lawyer from Russian Justice Initiative, an indepedent group, has filed a request to transfer the case from Ingushetia to Moscow, because of threats made to Elizaveta and concerns that the investigation is ineffective. The request was denied.

Russia’s Interior Ministry says that thousands of women die each year from domestic violence in the country. Research shows that most women who are beaten and humiliated by abusive husbands don’t go to police, and that of those who do so, just three percent of cases are moved to trial.

Family violence sadly enjoys widespread levels of societal tolerance in Russia, closely aligned to the false idea that violence in the home is a private matter, which doesn’t require state intervention.

A draft law on domestic violence, in line with international standards, was finally introduced in the Russian Parliament last year, thanks to relentless efforts by local women's rights activists. Bringing the law before State Duma has been a battle. But if Russian lawmakers adopt it, it will be a huge leap forward.

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