Knife, axe, and poker. Interview with Sofia Rusova about her new research on domestic violence in Russia
Sofia Rusova. Photo by Tatyana Belova for SpektrPress

12 December 2023

By Andrei Presnyakov


Every year, from 25 November to 10 December, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is held, an action designed to draw attention to this negative phenomenon. In Russia, even despite the judicial statistics on specific articles of the Russian Criminal Code and the Russian Code of Administration Offenses, the state has shown no interest in studying these kinds of problems. The gap has been filled by civil society structures.

The Consortium of Women’s Nongovernmental Organizations has published the results of major research on how the justice system in Russia deals with cases of domestic violence. Specialists have studied sentences in cases involving grave harm inflicted to health where the victim, male or female, has survived.

The figures obtained as a result of this work attest to the fact that the ages-old problem of domestic violence against women has gone nowhere in this country. Meanwhile, the regime is in no hurry to pass the long-awaited law guaranteeing a woman protection from violence on the part of her husband or partner, despite the fact that, back in 2020, 79% of Russian citizens recognized its necessity. The figures speak very eloquently about the problem’s scale.

In an interview for Spektr, human rights activist Sofia Rusova, who took part in the research, spoke about how researchers dealt with the data on trials connected to domestic violence, how the number of women murdered rose during the pandemic, and how the Russian justice system economizes on time in considering these kinds of cases.

— How does your organization structure its research work?

— The Consortium has been working actively since 1990 in the sphere of women’s rights and gender equality. The organization has engaged in various types of research, for example, connected with women’s status in the labor market. An interesting work is Svetlana Aivazova’s Women in Politics.  

Over the last 10 years, due to very high public demand for assistance to victims of domestic and partner violence, the Consortium has actively engaged in providing legal assistance and advocacy to victims. Without regular analysis of legislative measures passed and state programs in this sphere, we cannot fully clarify the depth of the problem.  Statistical data must be collected regularly, taking into account such categories as the form of violence and the nature of the relationship between the victim and the aggressor.

The Consortium has been compelled to research this problem independently due to the simple fact that the Interior Ministry uses the term “family-domestic violence,” whereas from the standpoint of international standards, gender-based violence is much broader, something that is lost in our Russian departmental statistics.

For example, they have no data on what kinds of criminal situations arise between people living in a common-law marriage. To say nothing of the fact that forms of violence like stalking, online harassment, and other new legal challenges are not taken into account at all by Russian departments. In its analytical materials, for example, the Department of the Supreme Court does not consider the article on justifiable defense in general. Instead, it falls under other criminal articles, therefore [we] have to seek out and process that information. It is to this that our project The Algorithm of Light is devoted.

Researcher Svetlana Zhuchkova developed a parser that helps work with enormous masses of data. Our initial study was aimed at determining the share of women killed under articles related to domestic violence. It turned out that 66% of all murdered women were killed as a result of domestic violence. Over-the-top figures.

The second study concerned the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. We analyzed the number of women killed over those two years as a result of domestic violence. As a percentage of all murdered women, it increased from 66% to 71%.

— Have you already had time to study how the war has affected this horrible statistic?

— As of yet very few sentences have been made public for the period of the so-called special military operation (SVO). We finished our analysis of 2022 with September because the GAS [state automated system] RF Justice has not put out the full volume of material for the later period. Naturally, we will be tracking the data, but it’s still too soon to draw conclusions. Moreover, the SVO is still going on, and in order to properly analyze how much the situation has changed, after all, time must pass.

— You said that the state structures called upon to solve the problem of domestic violence are not engaged in similar research. How is this expressed specifically?

— The state should have an interest in regularly conducting scientific research on this issue if it is going to support the mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the corresponding problems. In my opinion, though, the last time major research was conducted on the official level was in 2019. That was in connection with a discussion of one version of the draft legislation “On the prevention of family and domestic violence” in the State Duma. The deputies ordered up research from St. Petersburg State University on the situation with domestic violence. At the time, the Interior Ministry representative at the discussion in the Duma honestly admitted that they had neither any methodology for working with this problem nor full-fledged data on its scale.

Today, nothing is known about new state research on this topic, therefore we have taken cases under Article 111 of the Russian Criminal Code (Parts 1,2, and 3—“infliction of grave harm to health”) where the victims were both women and men in order to see how cases were investigated with one and the other.

I should  clarify why we chose Article 111 of the Criminal Code specifically. In our view, it concerns a category of crimes with a low level of secrecy, since the victims seek medical assistance. We are talking about inflicting harm to health. Most often, the crimes are committed with a weapon or other objects. Most widespread are the knife and axe. In one case we came across a poker. [to be continued]

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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