Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law on Tuesday an amendment that decriminalizes domestic violence, making physical abuse of a spouse, child, or elder parent punishable by a monetary fine rather than time in prison. Both houses of Russian parliament approved the measure handily—the first reading of the amendment in the lower house passed 386 to one.
Under the new law, a person can beat his spouse or child until she’s bloodied and bruised, and as long as her injuries don’t require a hospital stay, he’ll get hit with a fine if his victim presses charges. The most jail time he’ll serve will be 15 days. Previously, domestic abusers faced a maximum of two years in prison. The amendment offers domestic abusers this easy out as long as they don’t commit more than one severe beating a year.
The law was written by member of parliament Yelena Mizulina, who also drafted the country’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law that’s had a chilling effect on LGBTQ life in Russia. Domestic violence only became a crime in Russia in summer 2016, when parliament decided that people who beat their spouses and family members should be punished as criminals. Now, survivors of domestic abuse must collect evidence and track doctors’ visits themselves before filing a complaint; since it’s no longer a criminal offense, police don’t have to investigate.
The Guardian reports that advocates for the new amendment have argued for “traditional families” with parent-child relationships “built on authority and power.” They claim they were merely trying to close a loophole that would have allowed a stranger to get off with a lesser sentence for beating a woman or child than that victim’s husband or parent. The Russian Orthodox Church has also pushed for looser restrictions on domestic abusers, claiming that the state should not interfere in family matters and that calls to make domestic violence a crime are informed by Western influences that want to impose liberal values on Russia.
Domestic violence is widely recognized as an epidemic in Russia, where each month, more than 600 women are killed in their own homes. In 2013, Russian officials reported that 600,000 women reported being physically or verbally abused at home; that year, 14,000 died from injuries inflicted by an intimate partner.
Administrative fines are not an effective means of disrupting cycles of domestic violence, which often intensify with each go-round. A husband whose wife gathers enough evidence to file a complaint against him is unlikely to cease his abuse after paying a fine. Moreover, decriminalizing abuse within the family sends a strong message that the Russian state condones the enforcement of obedience through violence—a message husbands and parents will undoubtedly hear, on account of all the press this amendment has gotten.
In another country, that press attention might have also opened channels for more robust discussion and awareness-raising about domestic violence. But Russian authorities have prohibited opponents of the new law from staging a protest in Moscow, effectively stifling public debate. Anti–domestic violence activist Alena Popova told the Guardian that she’s been protesting outside the parliament building on her own, listening to supporters of the law defend wife-beating and fielding accusations that she’s been paid by Western nations. Popova said she’d be less disheartened by the passage of this new law if parliament had also passed another in-progress bill that would seek to reduce instances of domestic abuse. That bill has hit a wall in parliament and will probably get blocked.
Here in the U.S., noted friend of Russia Donald Trump is reportedly planning to cut all federal grants housed under the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, grants that provide essential support to victims of sexual assault, intimate-partner violence, elder abuse, stalking, and children who witness the abuse of a parent. At the same time, the president has signed an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to disseminate information on “acts of gender-based violence against women or honor killings by foreign-born individuals in the United States”—a Nazi-esque act of propaganda designed to stoke fear of and prejudice against immigrants. One wonders what the man who practically made alleged domestic abuse a prerequisite for a cabinet nomination thinks of gender-based violence that’s perpetuated by Russian Christians instead of his imaginary immigrant villains.