Shocking legal adjustments as to what constitutes punishable domestic violence have recently been proposed in the Russian parliament. Russian MP Yelena Mizulina has attempted to sharpen the distinction between crime and privatised family altercations, by suggesting that the state back away from matters of domestic violence if they are “moderate”. She proposes a law that decriminalises physical acts of abuse that do not cause serious harm to the victim. Essentially, bruising, scratching and bleeding are all to be overlooked by the state because they will not cause the victim long-lasting, detrimental health effects – supposedly.

But how much can we really extract from the words moderate, serious and health effects? The subjectivity of these terms is more than problematic, particularly when tackling something as important as the law. Surely there is no such thing as moderate violence – as violence is an extremity in itself. Furthermore, we cannot quantify the amount of harm caused to a victim and then use this to amend laws that are supposed to keep Russian citizens safe. There is little humanity in the view that short-term physical effects of abuse are trivial and should therefore be responded to with fines. What about the health effects we cannot necessarily see? Such as the long-term psychological decline of the victim as they suffer from repeated acts of abuse.

It has been stated that second beatings within a year of the first offence will be open to criminal trial. Several MPs have acknowledged that Mizulina’s proposals to revise the Russian domestic violence laws are necessary to overcome a loophole in the law, where there are worse penalties for assaulting family members than there are for assaulting others. MPs are looking to separate themselves more explicitly from privatised matters of domestic life and therefore, to return to “traditional values”.

Russian MP Yelena Mizulina. Credit:

However, domestic violence is already a huge issue in Russia – with more than 10,000 women thought to suffer fatal injuries inflicted by husbands every year. Not only this, but the Russian proverb “If he beats you, it means he loves you” has encouraged society to disregard the act of domestic violence as laughable. Traditional Russian values favour women marrying young for practicality and not romance. Even worse, an article in The Moscow Times has stated that “any suffering [women] experience is considered normal – in fact, they are meant to suffer.”

A major pitfall in Mizulina’s law proposal is that in attempting to separate the state from the private sphere of the home, victims of domestic violence become completely isolated. If they know that their partners or family members can get away with inflicting physical harm on them, simply by paying a fine, then victims are unlikely to report the abuse at all. In this way, domestic violence statistics will drop even further and the Russian government will have successfully glossed over an issue that is progressively being tackled on a universal scale. Even worse, offenders will be more likely to turn to physical violence quicker – as they know that their first offences, if “moderate” enough, will simply be excused.

Although the proposed law threatens the safety of every domestic violence victim in Russia and contradicts the progressive thinking of other countries all over the world, the law has thankfully not been instated yet. The Duma, which is the lower rank of the Russian parliament, has to pass the bill three times before it can be moved to the upper tier of parliament for a decision. It then has to be signed by the president, Vladimir Putin, before any amendments in Russian law are actually made. Yet Putin already seems to be in favour of Mizulina’s proposal, claiming in December when questioned, that “unceremonious interference with the family is impermissible”.

Many responses to the proposal from other parts of the world have been negative. Women’s rights activists have highlighted that the law will only heighten the intensity of domestic violence cases, by causing abusers to confront their victims for reporting them in the first place. As a result, abusers will have the power to oppress their victims into a muted submission that ensures they do not report them again. Similarly, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, sent a letter to the chairman of the Duma that claimed this proposal was “a clear sign of regression within the Russian Federation”.

Worryingly, a recent poll has shown that 59% of Russians are in favour of slackening the law, with a measly 17% of Russians claiming to be “fully against it”. However, women’s rights activists have claimed that the results could be misleading, as answers may be inaccurate due to the phrasing of the questions asked.