Orthodox religion, patriarchal values and economic dependence: domestic violence is widely spread in Russia and its reasons are numerous. The topic was discussed during the opening of this year’s LGBT film festival Side by Side in St Petersburg
“When it comes to domestic violence, the situation in Russia is rather bad,” says Natalia Khodyreva. She works as a psychologist in one of the few crisis centres for women in St Petersburg.
“We have a hotline and we offer legal consulting and psychological help,” psychologist Khodyreva says. Their help is anonymous and free of charge. Khodyreva and her team are an important address for women who experienced domestic violence.
“We have a high criminal rate in Russia”
The problem is huge. According to Russian government statistics, 40 percent of all violent crimes are committed within the family. As the Moscow Times reports, this correlates to 36,000 women beaten by their partners daily and 26,000 children assaulted by their parents every year.
“We have a high criminal rate in Russia and there is a lot of violence going on between close people,” says Khodyreva. However, women are not the only victims: “Domestic violence is also happening towards elderly and children, and this is not recognised,” Khodyreva explains.
According to a report by the UN Committee for Human Rights in 2015, the number of domestic assaults on women and children grew by 20% compared to 2010. But – of course – domestic violence is a delicate and difficult topic and since the number of unreported cases is undoubtedly high, it is almost impossible to make accurate estimations.
Patriarchal values and economic dependence
Psychologist Khodyreva has more than 20 years of experience working in the field. She sees several reasons why domestic violence is so widespread in the Russian society. “We have a religion that wants to lead and that interferes with the private sphere,” she says.
“The society has not come to an understanding of what is good and what is bad here because some promote patriarchal values,” Khodyreva continues.
Still, it is not only the cultural values which provide fertile ground for domestic violence in Russia. There is also a strong correlation between the economic independence of modern women and the level of violence: “If we take the example of a woman with no place [of her own] and no job, [she] might be likely to be more patient to the violence. Sometimes women end up living up to 30 years in a situation of humiliation, violence and even regular sexual assault,” she says.
This type of behaviour remains somewhat incomprehensible to outsiders, but there are psychological factors that explain it. “Adaptation is very natural and our resource for it are unlimited,” psychologist Khodyreva says.
“If he beats you, it means he loves you”
This submission to violence even manifests itself within the Russian language: “If he beats you, it means he loves you” is a common Russian saying. It legitimises domestic violence as an expression of affection.
For those women who take the courage to break this cycle, Khodyreva and her team from the crisis centre are there to help. However, challenges are growing.
“Now it is very difficult to work because of threats from the government,” the psychologist explains. She fears that the crisis centre might soon be categorised as a “foreign agent”. NGOs that receive this label are stigmatised to be “spies” or “traitors”.
“We have not yet been put on this list, but our co-workers are afraid that it will happen. It is really not a good situation for crisis centres for women in Russia right now,” Khodyreva says.