As It Happens

Russian women are being forced to pay their abusers' domestic violence fines, advocates say

Women in Russia are being forced to pay fines handed down to their husbands for beating them, say advocates who work with victims of domestic violence.
A woman who has been beaten by her husband holds her child in a shelter outside Moscow on Jan. 26. Under new Russian law, some victims of domestic violence are being forced to pay their abusers' fines. (Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press)
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Women in Russia are being forced to pay fines handed down to their husbands for beating them, say advocates who work with victims of domestic violence.

"You can only imagine how unfair it is," Marina Pisklakova-Parker, head of the Anna Centre for victims of domestic abuse, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"It's a message to a woman that she cannot seek help from the state, but it is also a message for a perpetrator that it's OK to do it."

The fines stem from Russian legislation passed in February that decriminalizes violence against spouses or children that happens less than twice a year and results in bleeding or bruising, but not broken bones. 

"We have very active conservative groups, including some groups within [the] Orthodox Church, who say that a law against domestic violence will destroy a family, that the family has to be preserved at any price — and I guess our society is getting ready to pay this price, Pisklakova-Parker said.

Tracked down in shelters

Once punishable by up to two years behind bars, battery against a family member is now considered a civil offence if it does not result in serious injury. It carries a sentence of 15 days in jail or a fine of 30,000 rubles ($655 Cdn).

Those fines put a financial burden on women who share bank accounts with their abusers, Pisklakova-Parker said.

In some cases, she said, women who flee abusive situations are being tracked down and forced to pay the fines after their husbands refuse. 

"Even if she's hiding in a shelter … if he doesn't pay, just avoids paying it, then it can be withdrawn from her account or their joint account," she said.

Activist Alyona Popova holds a sign outside the Russian parliament, invoking an old Russian proverb: 'If he beats you, he loves you.' (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

Alena Popova, an activist who has campaigned for a bill on domestic violence prevention, told the Guardian: "It's a common situation that the woman will pay her abuser's fine."

"According to the law, the woman needs to pay if [she] and her husband share a common family bank account. In reality, the man will often ask the woman to pay, because he thinks she was wrong to complain or because he doesn't have enough money," Popova said.

'Tip of the iceberg'

The Russian Interior Ministry estimates 600,000 women in the country face physical and verbal abuse at home every year, according the BBC. ​

"But it's really the tip of the iceberg," Pisklakova-Parker said.

Only 20 per cent of the women who call the Anna Centre's domestic violence hotline have reported their abuse to police, she said, and 70 per cent haven't told anyone at all.

Alexandra, 26, a victim of domestic violence, poses for pictures in a kitchen at a flat in Moscow on Feb. 3. Advocates say new fines for battery make it harder for women to report abuse. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

These fines only exacerbate the problem, Pisklakova-Parker said.

"Women are blamed for provoking violence. They are blamed for not being a good wife or not listening to their husband," she said.

"It's [an] old story. Every society goes through that at some point before realizing that we cannot preserve families where we have violence and abuse."