Russia's parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to decriminalize domestic violence in cases where it does not cause "substantial bodily harm" and does not occur more than once a year.
The move, which eliminates criminal liability in such cases, makes domestic violence punishable by a fine of roughly $500, or a 15-day arrest, provided there is no repeat within 12 months.
The law is expected to be rubber-stamped by the upper chamber, where no opposition is expected. It then must be signed by President Vladimir Putin, who has signaled his support.
Russian police are often reluctant to get involved in domestic violence cases, which many regard as meddling in family affairs. The new law was passed in the wake of a widely-reported case last November, when prosecutors began investigating the case of a police officer who took a call from a woman complaining about her boyfriend’s aggressive behavior. Instead of offering help, the officer reportedly told the woman that the police would only come if she got killed. Shortly afterward, the man beat the woman to death.
Russia is one of three countries in Europe and Central Asia that do not have laws specifically targeting domestic violence. Critics of the new measure warned it would encourage domestic violence and fuel crime.
“This bill would establish violence as a norm of conduct,” Communist lawmaker Yuri Sinelshchikov said during the debate. Women's rights lawyer Mari Davtyan said that the new law is dangerous and "sends a message that the state doesn’t consider familial battery fundamentally wrong anymore.”
Surveys find that 1 in 5 Russians find it acceptable to hit one’s wife, husband or child. In many ways, this reflects the thrust of an old Russian proverb: “If he beats you it means he loves you.”
According to Russian government statistics from the Interior Ministry, 40% of all violent crimes are committed within the family. The figures correlate to 36,000 women being beaten by their partners every day and 26,000 children being assaulted by their parents every year.