Vladimir Putin has signed into law a controversial amendment that decriminalises domestic violence.
The amendment, which sailed through both houses of Russian parliament before Tuesday’s presidential signing, has elicited anger from critics who say that it sends the wrong message in a country where one woman dies every 40 minutes from domestic abuse.
From now on, beatings of spouses or children that result in bruising or bleeding but not broken bones are punishable by 15 days in prison or a fine, if they do not happen more than once a year. Previously, they carried a maximum jail sentence of two years.
Alena Popova, an activist who has campaigned against the law, said it would be fine to pass the amendments if a draft law specifically aimed at tackling domestic violence was passed at the same time. But that law, which provides for restraining orders and other safeguards in domestic abuse cases, is stalled in parliament and is not expected to be passed.
“Passing these amendments and not passing the other law is another sign that our society refuses to take this problem seriously,” she said.
Defenders of the law say it closes a nonsensical loophole by which violent acts committed by family members are punished more harshly than those committed by strangers.
“The question is not whether it’s OK to hit or not. Of course it isn’t. The question is how to punish people and what you should punish them for,” said Olga Batalina, one of the MPs who drafted the law.
Others claim the law is about protecting Russian traditions according to which the family is sacred. Priest Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy’s commission on family matters, said on a television programme that the idea the state should be able to poke its nose into family affairs was a western imposition on Russia. “Some of the things happening in northern Europe now are such that even Hitler couldn’t have dreamed them up,” he said.
Some of the mainstream discussion around gender and domestic violence in Russia can be shocking.
An article last week in the science section of the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda cheerfully told readers about an “advantage” of wife-beating. It said: “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!
Popova said that during her one-woman protest outside parliament, various people had insulted her. Some had claimed she was paid to protest by western governments, while others told her that some women simply deserved to be beaten, she said.
Discussion of the bill in parliament coincided with the women’s marches in Washington