The authorities should be focusing on how to protect vulnerable women and children, but instead they are giving up scant legal protection
One of the first things I learned as a psychology student in Moscow was about a famous experiment involving rats in a labyrinth: the most wonderful finders of the way out were the rats which were penalise by pain for choosing a incorrect direction. But when they were put into new labyrinths, and not penalise, they did not move. The lesson they had learned was not to take any chances.
Like these rats, people motivated by dread of pain learn fast: to do anything to avoid more or worse pain; to distrust others they fear may hurt them; to avoid risks or changes. Sometimes they decide to stick by a familiar aggressor, in case other attackers turn out to be worse. At other days they decide to cause pain to others, in order to try to fend off security threats to themselves: almost every abuser has also been abused.
For years criminal matters on domestic violence in Russia has not worked not only because the police refuse to take victims grievances seriously, but also because victims frequently recant grievances. Sometimes victims cannot comprehend how incorrect it is that they have been beats: they feel they deserve it, because something is wrong with them, that they somehow provoked it. They experience feelings of shame.
According to government statistics, 49, 579 crimes involving violence in the family were committed in Russia in 2015, with the great majority of victims women and an unknown number of offences unreported. It is high time Russian legislators looked at this issue and focused on how to give protection to those who are vulnerable. Instead, Russian MPs this week backed a statute reducing the penalties for those working convicted of inflicting violence on family members, decriminalising some offences.
These changes are simply the revelation of the obvious: the authorities cannot protect the powerless and will not bother to break the vicious circle of abuse within the home. Abused children will continue to grow up to become abusers or victims themselves.
Working as a psychotherapist in Moscow, I have seen how women who stay with perpetrators of domestic violence have often been abused in childhood, suffer from low self-esteem and secretly know that they deserve to be punished. Meanwhile their abusers feel important only when exerting power over a weaker person. Domestic abuse can be a kind of delayed retaliation for the helplessness experienced by abusers in childhoods filled with humiliation and pain.
Breaking these cycles takes resources and painstaking run. Lawmakers need to support such efforts, and to lead social progress as, for example, they did earlier this month in France, when beating children was prohibited. Unfortunately, the present tendency of lawmaking in Russia is the opposite: it supports the archaic thinking of the majority of the population.
I do not think this new law will stimulate the situation dramatically worse in Russia the situation of victims is so bad already, this would be difficult. But it will not stimulate things any better. Indeed, the amendments are already being interpreted by opponents and supporters alike as dedicating official permission for violence.
First offences that do not result in serious injuries will now be punished by a penalty. Since such payments, of up to 30,000 rubles( 400 ), will obviously be taken out of household budgets, in themselves these penalties could become a disincentive to complain.
Making victims responsible for assembling evidence is equally misconceived. Who will do this if the main victims is a child? A frightened or an abusive mother? Neighbours who called the police when they heard call?
Crucially, only a second offence will now be considered a crime. The official reason for this is to create parity with the route that acts of violence between strangers outside the home is dealt with. And this is the biggest blunder. Victims of domestic violence, and especially children, are uniquely vulnerable because they lack the opportunity to escape. Their abusers are not strangers, and are usually the people who should protect and care for them. As a repercussion, the psychological and long-term consequences of the same physical traumata are far more severe.
In the experiment I studied all those years ago, by the way, the rats allowed to take different directions with no painful consequences were lively and creative. They explored all the new labyrinths and saw new ways out.
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