Thousands of Russian women are posting photos of themselves on social media wearing make-up or using an Instagram filter to look beaten and bruised. Their faces, bleeding from lacerations or purpled with bruises, stare accusingly at the camera. The images are part of an online campaign calling on the Russian government to pass a bill against domestic violence in the country.
Human rights activist Alena Popova and Russian internet star Alexandra Mitroshina started the campaign along with a petition that urges the government to introduce a draft law on the topic. The phrase ‘I didn’t want to die’ in Russian - #янехотелаумирать – has become the slogan of the campaign, with women etching the phrase in eyeliner over their lips, cheeks or chests. The petition was created three years ago, but it's only with this new wave of interest on social media that it has gained traction.
The campaign’s launch comes in the wake of a number of high-profile cases of domestic violence, such as the Khachaturyan murder trial. Three teenage sisters, Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan, murdered their father in July 2018 after enduring years of physical and sexual abuse. In June, a court charged the sisters with premeditated murder, which sparked outrage across Russia. The two older sisters, Krestina and Angelina, face up to 20 years in prison. Maria Khachaturyan, who was a minor at the time of the killing, could be in prison for up to 10 years.
In another case, on July 8 this year, nursery school teacher Oksana Sadykova was allegedly stabbed by her husband and killed. Before her death, Sadykova had already reported her husband to the police.
Mitroshina referred to those two cases in her Instagram post launching the campaign, saying, "There would not be so many deaths if there was a law”.
Only 3% of domestic violence cases go to court
These stories have cast a spotlight on the country’s high rates of domestic violence, and the lack of legal protection for women from their partners and family members. The country does not have a specific national law that deals only with domestic violence, and there are no protection orders in Russian law. Only around three per cent of domestic violence cases are ever heard in court.
At least one in five women in Russia has “experienced physical violence at the hands of their husband or partner at some point during their lives”, according to official studies cited by a 2018 Human Rights Watch report. The report also details how women are often treated with disbelief, contempt or disinterest when they report abuse to the police, and says domestic violence is often seen as a private matter that should be solved within the family, without resorting to external help.
In 2017, President Vladimir Putin signed into law an amendment that partially decriminalised domestic battery for first time offences. The change reduced the punishment for violence against a spouse or child that results in bruising or bleeding, but not broken bones, from a possible jail sentence to a fine. In the year following the amendment, the number of domestic violence cases reported to the police halved – suggesting that women were deterred from reporting abuse.
“If we had had this law then my life could have been completely different”
Serafima Fofanova, 25, posted a photo of herself using an Instagram filter that was created for the campaign. The filter gives the user a black eye and adds a scratch on the side of the head, as well as adding the hashtag in an inky scrawl around the user’s lips. She spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team about why she wanted to add her voice to the voices of other Russian women asking for this law.
“We really need this law. There are a lot of situations of domestic violence in families but people are silent about it. Nothing happens until a tragedy occurs. [Those who commit domestic violence] are criminals and should be punished for what they are doing.”
The campaign has a particular resonance for Fofanova, who comes from a family riven by domestic violence.
In the caption for the photo she posted, Fofanova detailed the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of her father. She describes seeing her father hit her mother in the back with a hot iron, and how her father threatened a friend of his by jabbing him in the ribs with a knife in the family kitchen. “My mind partially blocks these memories,” she writes. “This is what happens with severe shocks. I can’t remember how these situations ended, because I was only between 5 and 7 years old at the time”.
She also describes how the police did come to the house, but then went away again after her mother assured them that everything was fine and that she had forgiven her husband. She continues, “Many wonder how you can allow yourself to be treated like that and to forgive such violence…Now I understand that my mother just wanted love.”
“When I was writing the post on Instagram I was crying. If we had had this law then my situation could have been different. My life could have turned out so differently. My father beat my mother very badly in front of me when I was a child. I was so afraid of him. My grandmother came and took me out of the family, 4,000 kilometres away from my mother and father, and she gained custody of me. If the police had taken him away it would have protected our family from him.”
Fofanova says that when she signed the petition there were only 500 names. At the time of writing, over 600,000 people have signed the petition. In response to the petition, the head of the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament Valentina Matviyenko announced that politicians would look at the possibility of strengthening legislation against domestic violence.
Reporting by Christopher Brennan, writing by Catherine Bennett.
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