Russia’s Decriminalization of Domestic Violence Is Not The Answer

By: Mario Martinez

In the last ten years, contrary to the progression of women’s rights around the country, women in Russia have seen their rights severely decrease, if not disappear.[1] In January of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law decriminalizing domestic violence.[2] The amended Russian criminal code now treats the first conviction for domestic battery on a spouse or family member minimally by treating it as an administrative offense, which could result simply in a $500 dollar fine or just 15 days in jail. [3] Criminal charges would result only if severe injuries result from the domestic battery such as a concussion or broken bones to the partner or family member. [4]

The vote by Russia’s lower house of Parliament to decriminalize the criminal law was far from close with a result of 380 votes to 3 votes. [5] Members of the Russian government have defended their stance for approving the decriminalization of domestic violence by focusing on its impact on child rearing. The government states that these amended domestic violence laws allow parents in Russia to have more leeway in disciplining their children without great interjection by the state. The Russian Church also agrees with the new domestic violence laws. The Russian Orthodox Church released a statement claiming that physical punishment is an old tradition in Russia and the government should protect this right because it is “an essential right given to parents by God.”[6]

Despite Russia’s supposed reasoning behind the amended domestic violence laws, the true victims are Russian women who are brutally beaten even more frequently as a consequence of the new legislature. Russia does not keep a centralized record of statistics and thus, we are left to rely on statistics provided by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to the Russian Ministry, 40% of violent crimes in Russia occur within the family. More specifically, 36,000 women suffer beatings from their husbands or partners daily and 14,000 women are killed by family members every year. [7] In other words, in Russia, approximately 39 women are killed every day by a family member. To put things in perspective, despite the fact the United States’ population is double that of Russia, from the years 2001 to 2012 there were a total of 11,766 women killed by their partners in the United States. This number averages to approximately 1,000 deaths per year in the United States. [8] Therefore, women in Russia are being killed due to domestic violence at a rate that is 14 times higher per year in comparison to women in the United States.

What can be done to help women in Russia fight this abuse?  The reason for the lack of legal representation for women in Russia is greatly accredited to Russia’s past Communist regime as well as a result of ignorance amongst lawyers leading to legal misinformation being provided to victims. [9] The majority of lawyers who were trained under the Soviet rule have a very tailored idea of the role lawyers should play and helping women combat domestic abuse is not part of that role. On a positive note, the American Bar Association Central and East European Law Project (ABA CEELI), which consists of 60 attorneys in 22 countries of the former Soviet Union, created the Gender Law Project in 1996 that addresses violence against women in ways such as, trying to create non-government organizations and training lawyers and judges on women’s rights issues.[10] Under Russia law, non- lawyers can provide representation for clients in court and such organizations are permitted to bring complaints on behalf of clients.[11] For this reason, a recent focus has been brought to the idea of training non-lawyers to represent abused women in court.  The ABA CEELI requests empowered countries, such as the United States, to help them with funding legal training programs that would further educate lawyers, judges, and lay activists on how to represent battered women in legal proceedings. Until women in Russia receive the legal aid they both demand and require, Russia will continue to be ruled by an archaic form of thinking and the continuation of numerous innocent mothers, daughters, and sisters being killed on a daily basis.

[1] Stallard, Jenny, The Dark Reality of Russia’s Domestic Violence Laws(2018),


[3]Ivan Nechepurenko, Russia Moves to Soften Domestic Violence Law, N.Y. Times (2017),


[5]Lucian Kim, Russian President Signs Law To Decriminalize Domestic Violence, NPR(2017),

[6]Statement of the Patriarchal Commission on the Family, Maternity and Childhood Protection in connection with the adoption of a new version of Article 116 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation(2016), -detstva-v-svyazi-s-prinyatiem-novoj-redaktsii-stati-116-ugolovnogo-kodeksa-rf.html.

[7] Isajanyan & Nerses, Russia: Decriminalization of Domestic Violence (2017),

[8] Alanna Vagianos, 30 Numbers That Prove Domestic Violence Is an American Epidemic, The Huffington Post (2017),

[9] Dianne Post, Women’s Rights in Russia: Training Non-Lawyers to Represent Victims of Domestic Violence,4 Yale Hum. Rts. & Dev. L.J. 135, 137 (2001).

[10] Id. at 138-139.

[11] Id. at 139.

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