Violence Against Women in the Russian Federation
Russian Federation
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Population of women: 76,712,000/142,703,000[i]
Life expectancy of women (at birth):  75[ii]
School life expectancy for women:  15[iii]
Women's adult literacy: 99%[iv]
Women engaged in economic activity: 58%

Source: U.N. Statistics Division, Statistics and Indicators on Women and Men and Social Indicators, updated December 2012 

last updated October 2014

INTRODUCTION

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to political, economic, and social challenges for Russians that continue to the present day. Women have been disproportionately impacted by these challenges and experience high rates of unemployment and poverty.[v]

Despite evidence of widespread discrimination and violence against women, Russia lacks comprehensive measures to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women.[vi] According to a 2006 report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, “[v]iolence against women in the [Russian] Federation poses a major challenge to the Government in terms of its human rights obligations and sustained security.”[vii]

In 2013, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) found that Russia had done little to implement the recommendations contained in the Special Rapporteur’s 2006 report,[viii] including:

  • adoption of specific legislation on domestic violence and other measures to protect women from violence;
  • establishment of shelters and other support for women victims of violence;
  • elimination of discrimination against women in all areas of public life, including employment;
  • establishment of a national machinery for the advancement of women;
  • measures to address gender biases in law enforcement, the judiciary, and Russian society;
  • measures to protect women in the Northern Caucasus from violence and promote their human rights.[ix]

In 2010, the CEDAW Committee urged Russia “to give priority attention to combating violence against women and girls and to adopting comprehensive measures to address such violence.”[x] According to an expert commission formed by a coalition of women’s organizations called “ANNA National Centre for the Prevention of Violence “ or ANNA, “the main obstacle to effective response to violence against women [in Russia] is the absence of a federal public policy that defines the problem as a serious impediment to the observance and achievement of women's rights as human rights.”[xi] As of October 2014, Russia has neither signed nor ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), which entered into force on August 1, 2014.[xii]

Additionally, a lack of dedicated, sustained government funding and support requires Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) combating violence against women to secure financial support from foreign governments, international organizations and private foundations.[xiii] Increasingly restrictive Russian federal laws regulating the activities and foreign funding of NGOs (known as “foreign agent” laws) have compromised this support and made it more difficult for NGOs in Russia to advocate for women’s human rights.[xiv]

GENDER EQUALITY

The Russian Federation is a party to numerous international and regional human rights treaties that mandate the protection, respect and fulfillment of the human rights of those under its jurisdiction. Specifically, the Russian Federation has ratified The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[xv] and its Optional Protocol,[xvi] which require the government to take affirmative steps to address gender-based discrimination and violence against women. Article 15(4) of the Russian Constitution states, “if an international treaty of the Russian Federation stipulates other rules than those stipulated by the law, the rules of the international treaty apply.”[xvii]

Article 19 of the Russian Constitution guarantees equality between women and men.[xviii] However, Russia has not enacted a comprehensive gender equality law, and “neither the Constitution . . . nor other appropriate legislation, contains a definition of discrimination or expressly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex.”[xix] In the few cases addressing gender discrimination, Russian courts have held that the Constitution’s guarantee of gender equality embodies a “general principle of law that does not create a cause of action under which individuals can protect their right to be free from discrimination.”[xx]   

Russia also has no law guaranteeing equal opportunities for men and women in employment or education. Women are heavily concentrated in low-paid professions and earn just 64% of the average male income.[xxi] Women of  “childbearing age” are excluded from hundreds of potentially lucrative jobs considered unsafe or dangerous by the Russian government.[xxii]

In 2001, the former Ministry of Labor and Social Development developed a “National Action Plan for Gender Equality” (NAP).[xxiii]  However, the government never officially adopted the NAP, nor has it adopted a more recent NAP that was reportedly under development in 2010.[xxiv]

According to ANNA, Russian federal government restructuring in 2004 “effectively destroyed the previously existing national mechanisms for establishing equal rights for women.”[xxv] A handful of Russian state institutions continue to focus on women’s issues, including the Committee on Women, Family and Youth of the State Duma (Parliament) and the Coordinating Council on Gender Issues within the Ministry of Health and Social Development.[xxvi] However, these institutions are underfunded and typically do not coordinate their activities. Moreover, they do not constitute a specialized government body with the authority and resources to function as the national gender equality machinery across all government agencies and, therefore, to ensure the Russian government’s compliance with its international obligations.[xxvii] The CEDAW Committee has twice identified such a mechanism as an urgent need to ensure the protection of women’s rights in the Russian Federation.[xxviii]

The CEDAW Committee in 2010 also expressed serious concern about the negative impact of traditional gender attitudes in the Russian Federation, stating:

The Committee reiterates its concern at the persistence of practices, traditions, patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles, responsibilities and identities of women and men in all spheres of life. In this respect, the Committee is concerned at the State party’s repeated emphasis on the role of women as mothers and caregivers. The Committee is concerned that such customs and practices perpetuate discrimination against women and girls; that this is reflected in their disadvantageous and unequal status in many areas, including in education, public life, decision-making, marriage and family relations, and the persistence of harmful traditional practices, honour killings, bridal kidnappings and violence against women.[xxix]

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Prevalence of domestic violence

Women in the Russian Federation experience domestic violence at an exceptionally high rate.  Violence is considered “routine” in Russian families where patriarchal norms persist.[xxx] According to ANNA, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs released the following statistics on domestic violence in 2008:

  • Fourteen-thousand women die annually “at the hands of husbands or other relatives;”
  • Violence occurs in 25% of Russian families;
  • Nearly 65% of all homicides are related to domestic violence;
  • At least forty percent of “serious violent crimes” occur in the family.
  • As of December 2008, more than 200,000 domestic violence offenders were on file with Russian police.[xxxi]

Other research indicates that as many as sixty to seventy percent of Russian women do not report domestic abuse.[xxxii] According to the Moscow-Helskini Group, many women believe the police will simply tell them to return to their husbands and sort the situation out for themselves.[xxxiii] In general, accurate and complete data on the true prevalence of domestic violence in Russian society is lacking, as statistics are “fragmentary, difficult to obtain, or simply do not exist."[xxxiv] Additionally, the Russian government has “’no system for collecting credible data’ on the incidence of domestic violence reports, investigations, prosecutions, or convictions.”[xxxv] The Ministry of Internal Affairs has not updated its domestic violence information since 2008.

In 2012, during its review of the Russian Federation, the U.N. Committee on Torture stated:

Despite consistent reports of numerous allegations of many forms of violence against women throughout the State party, the Committee is concerned that there are only a small number of complaints, investigations and prosecutions of acts of domestic violence and violence against women . . . . It is also concerned about reports that law enforcement officers are unwilling to register claims of domestic violence, and that women who seek criminal investigations of allegations of domestic violence are compelled to participate in reconciliation processes. [xxxvi]

Legislation

The Russian Federation has no comprehensive law, program or action plan to address domestic violence.[xxxvii]  The U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women observed in 2006 that “[w]hile the State Duma has considered as many as 50 draft versions of a law on domestic violence, none has been adopted.”[xxxviii] This was still true in August 2014, despite the Duma’s consideration of yet another draft bill to prevent and combat domestic violence in late 2013.[xxxix] According to the Special Rapporteur, “[t]he lack of a specific law on domestic violence in Russia is a major obstacle to combating this violence.”[xl]

The Russian Federation has no civil domestic violence laws to protect women victims of violence. Such legislation would encompass restraining orders, emergency protective orders, and other measures to remove a perpetrator from the home and reduce the threat of domestic violence.[xli] The lack of civil protective measures for domestic violence victims limits the ability of victims to obtain protection from abuse. It also limits the ability of Russian law enforcement and the judiciary to effectively intervene in cases of domestic violence. Russian police say that if an officer did not witness a violent incident, he can only ask the batterer to give a statement, but cannot make an administrative arrest.[xlii] Even if the police do remove a violent perpetrator from the home, “they normally keep him in detention for less than a day or slightly longer in ‘serious cases,’ then release him without charge.”[xliii]

In the rare case where the Russian state decides to charge a domestic violence perpetrator with a crime, a domestic violence victim may qualify for state protection under the Russian Federation’s general victim and witness protection law.[xliv] This law was enacted in 2004 and amended most recently in 2013.[xlv] The Russian government stated in 2012 that this law affords physical protection to “almost any participant in criminal proceedings.”[xlvi] Such protection may include “transfer to a safe place” or a new residence.[xlvii] A victim does not have to wait for the state to initiate criminal proceedings before applying for protection under the law.[xlviii] However, the state rarely prosecutes domestic violence cases and even then, only if the victim has already suffered serious physical injury or death (see below).[xlix] It is not clear whether the victim and witness protection law has ever been applied to a case of domestic violence in Russia. ANNA has recommended amending the law to include specific provisions for domestic violence protective orders.[l]

In general, Russian police do not receive domestic violence training and are reluctant to respond to, or register, domestic violence complaints. [li]  They tend to view such violence as “a private matter pertaining to the sphere of marital and familial relationships or as a personal problem of the affected woman.”[lii] Victims report that police treat them with hostility and blame them for provoking the violence.[liii] If a violent perpetrator remains in the home, Russian women have few available options to escape their abusers due to the “extremely limited” nature of support, assistance and shelter for domestic violence victims in Russia (See section below on Women’s NGOs and Services for Victims of Violence).[liv]

Additionally, the Russian Federation has no provisions in its criminal code that explicitly punish all forms of domestic violence.[lv] Domestic violence incidents instead are addressed under general provisions in the criminal code governing crimes against the person, including intentional infliction of light injury (Article 115); battery or beating (Article 116); torment or torture (Article 117); and threat of murder or infliction of grave injury to health (Article 119).[lvi] In 2006, Russian government officials told the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women that these provisions are adequate to punish perpetrators of domestic violence and that Russia did not need special legislation against domestic violence.[lvii]

However, both the Special Rapporteur and ANNA have found that these articles are not effective in addressing domestic violence.[lviii] The articles do not “take note of the relationship between the perpetrator and victim” nor do they adequately punish repeated acts of abuse against the same woman.[lix] For example, judges may not consider “light injury” convictions under Article 115 in determining whether a perpetrator is a repeat offender under Article 18 of the Criminal Code.[lx] In general, criminal punishments are lenient, encompassing fines or community service, and most perpetrators spend little or no time in prison even for the more serious cases involving “grave injury” charged under Article 119.[lxi]

In some cases, domestic violence incidents are not treated as criminal acts, but as administrative public order violations called “minor hooliganism” under Russian law, which limits the ability of police to intervene.[lxii]  In general, “[t]he law does not recognize the seriousness of domestic violence against women where the acts of violence often cause only minor damage to victim’s health but the impact of repeated abuse can have long-term psychological consequences on the victim.”[lxiii]

In 2003, Russian amended its criminal laws to treat light injury and battery crimes committed under Articles 115 and 116 as “criminal cases of private prosecution.”[lxiv] As a result, most domestic violence victims must initiate proceedings “privately” under Articles 20 and 318 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure.[lxv] The victim, or her legal representative (attorney), must file her complaint with a magistrate, who in turn must find that her complaint complies with the requirements of Article 318 before initiating private proceedings against the perpetrator.[lxvi] The victim must act as her own “private prosecutor” and the proceedings are subject to termination if the parties reconcile.[lxvii]

According to ANNA, most women lack the legal expertise to file a complaint, or are unable to hire an attorney to file the complaint for them. Even if a victim is able to properly file a complaint (by herself or through an attorney), the expense and difficulty of gathering evidence and the risk involved to domestic violence victims makes this procedure ineffective and dangerous for women.[lxviii] In fact, most domestic violence private prosecution cases are dismissed for technical reasons (e.g. deficient complaints) or reconcilation of the parties (90% of cases).[lxix] The procedures outlined in Articles 318 and 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code require the parties to a private procecution case to be informed multiple times of the possibility of reconciliation, including by the magistrate judge and defense counsel.[lxx]The U.S. Department of State 2013 Country Report on Russia found that judges often referred private cases to a reconcilation process that emphasized family unity rather than victim protection.[lxxi]

In 2005, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation declared the lack of state involvement in “private” prosecution procedures unconstitutional.[lxxii]  However, the court supported the victim’s procedural right to initiate and dismiss proceedings.[lxxiii] As of 2012, the year of the most recent published amendments to the Russian Criminal Procedure and Criminal Codes (in English), these private procedures remained in Russian law and there is no indication that the Russian state has become more involved in private prosecutions of domestic violence offenders.[lxxiv] 

In the rare instances when the Russian state publicly prosecutes cases of domestic violence, “opening criminal cases against perpetrators of domestic violence is ‘a complicated and lengthy procedure.’”[lxxv] Most reports indicate that very few cases of domestic violence result in criminal convictions of any kind, with one report citing figures as low as 3%.[lxxvi] 

According to ANNA, the provision in the Russian Criminal Code that is subject to public prosecution and is most relevant to domestic violence is Article 117, “Torture” or “Torment” (depending on the translation).[lxxvii] Article 117 forbids, “[t]he infliction of physical or mental suffering by means of systematic beating or by any other violent actions.”[lxxviii] The official commentary to Article 117 states that “torment”

should be understood as the infliction of physical and mental suffering to a victim, including systematic beatings, use of torture, threats, and insults. Other violent means of torment include, for example, sleep, food, and water deprivation, cold-rooms, biting, whipping, and binding.[lxxix]

Despite the Article’s apparent relevance to many cases of systematic domestic abuse, it is rarely used to prosecute perpetrators. This is because the standing case law of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation holds that beatings “committed in the course of an argument and caused by personal hostility cannot be regarded as torment.”[lxxx] According to ANNA, the vague nature of this ruling and the lack of clear guidance on the time-frame in which acts of torment or torture must occur, make it difficult to apply Article 117 to cases of domestic “torment.”[lxxxi] However, the Article remains in the Russian Criminal Code and women can make a case for its application to domestic violence.

Honor killings and bride kidnapping

In its shadow report to the CEDAW Committee in 2010, ANNA documented several cases of honor killings and bride-kidnappings in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia (see section below on Women of the Northern Caucasus).[lxxxii] ANNA reports that such practices occur in other regions of the Russian Federation.[lxxxiii]

Bride-kidnapping is a form of forced marriage involving the abduction and sometimes rape of a woman or girl, who out of fear and shame is later forced to marry her abductor.[lxxxiv] Provisions in the former Soviet-era criminal code that prohibited traditional practices such as bride-kidnapping were eliminated in 1996, when Russia adopted extensive amendments to its Criminal Code.[lxxxv] According to ANNA, bride-kidnapping now falls under Article 126 of the Russian Criminal Code which prohibits “Abduction.”[lxxxvi] However, a Note to Article 126 exonerates a man from all criminal liability for abduction if he voluntarily releases his victim.[lxxxvii] ANNA says this exception makes it nearly impossible to prosecute cases of bride-kidnapping in Russia.[lxxxviii] Additionally, Article 134 of the Russian Criminal Code allows a perpetrator to escape liability for statutory rape of a girl under age 16 if he marries his victim or is less than four years older than her.[lxxxix] In general, ANNA reports that the police are “extremely lenient towards all cases of abduction of young women, considering them to be ‘a kind of prenuptial activity.’”[xc]

Honor killings occur when a woman is murdered because her relatives, usually her male relatives, believe she has dishonored the family in some way.[xci] The practice is most common in Russian regions of Chechnya and Daghestan in the Northern Caucasus.[xcii] No provision in the Russian Criminal Code specifically addresses honor killings. ANNA reports that the exact number of honor killings in Russia is difficult to estimate because of the “hidden” nature of the crime and the fact that perpetrators are protected by local tradition and corrupt local officials.[xciii] For example, the President of Chechnya was quoted in 2009 as saying, in reference to the unsolved murders of seven young women, that the young women had “’loose morals’ and were justifiably shot.”[xciv]

SEXUAL ASSAULT

The Russian Federation does not maintain reliable statistics on sexual assault and has not performed or commissioned a comprehensive survey of the prevalence of sexual violence in the country.[xcv] The NGO coalition ANNA argues that the Ministry of Interior’s official statistics (4000 to 5000 rapes in 2008-2009) are too low.[xcvi] Some unofficial surveys have determined that as many as 22% of Russian women have experienced sexual violence[xcvii] and, according to ANNA, the actual number of sexual assaults may be as high as 40,000 per year.[xcviii] However, NGOs in Russia estimate that fewer than 10% of women victims of rape report the crime to law enforcement.[xcix]

Article 131 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation criminalizes rape, with harsher sentences for cases involving a juvenile victim, multiple rapists or the victim’s death.[c]  Article 132 punishes other forms of sexual assault under the title “Violent Actions of Sexual Character.”[ci] Crimes committed under Articles 131 and 132 are treated as crimes of “private-public” prosecution under Article 20(3) of Russia’s Code of Criminal Procedure.[cii] The victim must initiate criminal proceedings by filing an official application for prosecution; if she does not file a complaint, the state will not open a criminal case.[ciii] Unlike a purely private procedure, the state conducts the prosecution, including gathering evidence and examining witnesses, and the proceedings are not subject to automatic termination upon the victim’s reconciliation with the perpetrator.[civ]

However, as crimes of private-public prosecution, rape and violent sexual assault are categorized by Russian law as equivalent to a violation of copyright or invasion of personal privacy (also cases of private-public prosecution).[cv] The NGO coalition ANNA argues that this classification contributes to the failure of the criminal justice system in Russia to treat sexual violence as a serious crime.[cvi] It also allows perpetrators to pressure a victim not to file a complaint with the police. Additionally, victims often face intense pressure to drop a complaint soon after it was made.[cvii] Despite the fact that Article 20(3) requires the state to prosecute cases of private-public prosecution even if a victim withdraws her complaint, ANNA reports that prosecutors generally refuse to pursue an investigation or open a criminal case against the accused if the victim quickly recants.[cviii]

According to the Moscow Helsinki Group, citing statistics from the Center for Contemporary Policy Research, only 3% of reported rape cases have ever been prosecuted (the conviction rate is not known).[cix] Women are under tremendous social pressure not to report rapes, and even when they do, they often face “hostility and suspicion” from police and prosecutors who pressure them to drop their complaints or accuse them of inviting the attack.[cx]

In the northern Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, social pressures to ignore cases of rape are even more intense, as reported by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women in 2006:

If they (raped women) come home, they would be better off shooting themselves. If anyone laid a hand on them they’d be written off for good here in Chechnya. It’s a kind of law. A sullied daughter is worse than a dead one to her father. It’s a terrible disgrace. She’ll never get married and no one will say a kind word to her, even though it’s not her own fault she was dishonoured.[cxi]

 

Russian police departments lack specialized training in how to handle sex crimes or treat victims, and often do no refer victims for a forensic medical exam.[cxii] If an exam occurs at all, it is generally too late to gather any evidence of the rape. According to ANNA, “[s]ome doctors refuse to examine or help the victims of sexual violence, often because they are unwilling to deal with the criminal justice system or to testify in court.”[cxiii] Police and prosecutors will then use the lack of evidence as an excuse to not to proceed with a case, as Russian law requires an “expert” forensic-medical examination to establish “the character and extent of the damage” inflicted by a rape or sexual assault.[cxiv]

Russia also does not provide adequate protection, social services or legal assistance to rape victims.[cxv] In Russia, even state institutions that offer “crisis” services for women are “ill equipped to provide the specialized psychological therapy and legal support needed for a victim’s rehabilitation and cooperation in prosecution efforts.”[cxvi]

Other reports demonstrate that a major obstacle to holding rapists accountable is the low level of awareness about rape and the needs of rape victims among actors in the criminal justice system.  For example, a focus group participant told the Moscow-Helsinki Group the following about the police response to her rape report:

The fact is that some of my friends and myself have also been raped. None of my friends reported to the police but I did and I regret it to this day. I have never been more humiliated, insulted, and condemned than back then. It turned out that I was to blame for what had happened to me. My mother saved me from suicide whereas the police almost encouraged me to commit it.[cxvii]

Some prosecutors exhibit similar attitudes.  The Institute of Advanced Studies for the Prosecutor’s Office conducted an informal survey of 31 male prosecutors, in which 81% agreed with the statement “women often voluntarily enter into sex and then falsely accuse their partner of rape.”[cxviii]

The CEDAW Committee in 2010 raised concerns about a recent amendment to the statutory rape provisions of Article 134(1), which prohibits sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of 16.[cxix] The amendment, in the form of a Note to Article 134(1), would excuse a first time offender from punishment if his crime was “no longer socially dangerous” because he married his minor victim.[cxx] The Committee urged Russia to amend the article; [cxxi] however when Russia updated its criminal code in 2012 (the most recent available English translation), it did not remove this provision that potentially allows rapists to escape punishment for their crimes. Additionally, a second “Note” to Article 134(1) would remove the possibility of prison for offenders who were less than four years older than their victims.[cxxii]

Spousal rape

Russian law prohibits rape and sexual assault and contains no exceptions for rapes committed by spouses or relatives.[cxxiii] However, according to the 2013 U.S. Department of State Country Report on Russia, “many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases.”[cxxiv] The U.N. Committee on Torture in 2012 also found that police were reluctant to intervene in cases of spousal rape.[cxxv]

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Sexual harassment occurs so frequently in Russia that many women considered it a societal “norm.”[cxxvi] Reports detail sexual harassment “ranging from inappropriate comments, to proposals of sex and even sexual assault, but many noted that the problem itself is little understood, even by victims.”[cxxvii]  Official data on the actual prevalence of sexual harassment in Russia is not available, although a 2012 survey conducted by the Oleg Sukhov legal center found that 30% of Russian women reported experiencing sexual harassment in employment.[cxxviii] An earlier survey cited in several press reports in 2008 found that nearly 100% of Russian women reported sexual harassment by a superior at work.[cxxix] The same survey also found that, “[e]ighty per cent of those who participated in the survey said they did not believe it possible to win promotion without engaging in sexual relations with their male superiors.”[cxxx]

The Russian criminal code does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. More severe forms of sexual harassment may qualify as a crime under Article 133 (Compulsion to Perform Sexual Actions); however this article is “virtually never used in connection with sexual harassment cases.”[cxxxi] 

Similarly, sexual harassment is not a prohibited form of discrimination against women in employment, education, the military or any other public sphere in Russia. It is not recognized as a health or safety issue by government officials in regulation, or otherwise.[cxxxii]

Women who are sexually harassed may pursue general civil damages in Russian courts;[cxxxiii] however, only two women have successfully sued on the basis of sexual harassment since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as of 2008, no woman had won a case since 1997.[cxxxiv] The American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA-CEELI) reports that:

[V]ictims themselves are often reluctant to pursue legal recourse, due to lack of awareness about their rights, the difficultly of proving a case and fear of losing their job. In fact, many women simply leave their place of employment if sexual harassment occurs.[cxxxv]

In 2008, a Russian woman who sued her employer for sexual harassment was rebuked by the judge and told,  “[i]f we had no sexual harassment we would have no children.”[cxxxvi]