Date: Sun, 25 Jan 98 10:35:45 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Article: 26361

Too little, too late: state response to violence against women, Pt.1

Human Rights Watch, 25 January 1998


To the Russian Government
To the United States Government
To the United Nations
To the European Union
To the OSCE
To the Council of Europe
To the World Bank


Women and the Workplace
Women and Politics
Violence Against Women and the Absence of Reliable Statistics
Growth of the Women's Rights Movement



Sexual Violence
Domestic Violence


Processing of Complaints
Refusal of Complaints
Mistreatment of Victims
Forensic Examinations
Delayed Referrals
Inaccessibility of Doctors
Inadequate and Abusive Examinations
Unwillingness to Investigate
Invasions of Privacy
Biased Use of Psychological Interviews
Traumatizing Use of Face-to-face Confrontations
Failure to Protect Complainants
Closing of Cases Prior to Trial


Condoning Domestic Violence
Lack of Civil Remedies
Lack of Shelter


U.S. Policy
European Policy




Here a woman's dignity does not have any value.

Zoya Khotkina, Moscow Center for Gender Studies,
Moscow, April 25, 1996

In March 1995, Human Rights Watch released Neither Jobs Nor Justice, a report documenting widespread employment discrimination on the basis of sex that was practiced, condoned, and tolerated by the Russian government.The report also described how Russian law enforcement agencies routinely denied women their right to equal protection of the law by failing to investigate and prosecute violence against women. In April 1996, we returned to Russia to further research this problem. This report examines in-depth the state response to sexual violence outside the home as well as to sexual and other violence by intimate partners inside the home.

Violence against women is a pervasive problem in Russia. According to government statistics, nearly 11,000 women reported rape or attempted rape in 1996; the government simply does not gather statistics on women assaulted or killed by their partners. Yekaterina Lakhova, President Yeltsin's advisor on women's issues, has estimated that 14,000 women in Russia are killed by husbands or family members each year. These statistics, however, bono means document the extent of the problem of gender-based violence. According to women's rights activists, only about 5 to 10 percent of rape victims report to the police, and the rate of reporting by domestic violence victims is even lower. While myriad factors contribute to a victim's decision tore port or to remain silent, Human Rights Watch found that the inadequacy of the government's response to victims of violence plays a significant role in perpetuating the silence and underreporting.

The government of Russia fails to afford victims of violence the protection of the law required by the international human rights treaties to which Russia is a party. Although Russian law criminalizes acts that constitute sexual or domestic violence, Human Rights Watch found that Russian law enforcement does not effectively ensure that incidents of violence against women are actually investigated and prosecuted, and in fact has sometimes obstructed their investigation and prosecution. This discrepancy between the law as written and the law as applied demonstrates Russia's failure to fulfill its international human rights obligations. By tolerating violence against women, Russia has failed not only to ensure rights guaranteed tow omen in relevant international treaties but to enforce its own laws Ana nondiscriminatory manner.

Our researchers visited Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation,and St. Petersburg, the second largest city in the Russian Federation.We also visited Sergeyev Posad, formerly Zagorsk, a city near Moscow; Murmansk,a military port in the northwest of Russia countries; and Nizhni Tagil,an industrial city in the Ural mountains. We collected testimony from women who had experienced sexual or domestic violence. We spoke with activists who work with female victims of violence, police officers, prosecutors,and forensic doctors. Our researchers also met with several present and former members of the State Duma. Based on this research, Human Rights Watch found that rather than combatting violence against women, the Russian law enforcement system creates numerous and substantial obstacles toward that end. Human Rights Watch documented that from the moment that victims of violence first seek out the legal system until the close of their cases,these women consistently confront hostility, reluctance, and bias against their cases.

Our research revealed that police and prosecutors typically reject or discourage complaints, suggesting that female complainants either provoked or fabricated attacks and thus were not truly victims. In the limited instances when victims' complaints were accepted, this skepticism or hostility nonetheless persisted, manifesting in flawed investigations. The investigations entail seemingly irrelevant and unnecessarily invasive and broad inquiries into victims' reputations and sexual histories. Investigations also impose an umber of other dubious requirements that appear to hold complainants of sexual or other violence to a higher degree of scrutiny than is the case for complainants of other types of crimes. These requirements include extensive psychological interviews of victims and traumatizing face-to-face confrontations between victims and alleged offenders. In keeping with their general insensitivity or lack of concern for violence victims, law enforcement officials also routinely fail, during investigations, to protect complainants and their families from harassment by alleged offenders and their friends who aim to dissuade the victims from pursuing their cases.

Human Rights Watch also discovered serious failings in the government'collection of forensic evidence, evidence which is a practical requirement in the prosecution of sexual assault cases in Russia. In many instances,we found, police deny or unnecessarily delay giving women the official referrals necessary for examinations at government-run evidence centers.This unwarranted interference with prompt examinations is especially egregious because of the transient nature of forensic evidence and its critical importance,particularly in cases of sexual assault. Even when victims do undergo forensic examinations, we discovered that they still encounter substantial difficulty in securing meaningful evidence. Many of the forensic examinations are sorely inadequate, revealing a bias against women who are not virgins.Instead of collecting evidence to document the extent and severity of women's injuries and to identify offenders, many doctors focus exclusively on the hymen to determine whether and when it was broken.

Despite the flaws in the investigative process, Human Rights Watch found that all the municipalities that it researched boast perfect or near-perfect conviction rates for crimes of sexual violence. The apparent success in prosecuting such crimes is misleading, however. Upon closer examination these figures suggest a practice of closing all but the most foolproof of cases. The probable corollary to this practice is that cases that aren&@39;t foolproof are abandoned.

Human Rights Watch also documented the particular difficulties faced by victims of domestic violence. Because law enforcement officials resist even recognizing that domestic violence is a crime, many police officers refuse to respond to women's calls for help. In the limited instance when the police do respond, they often will hold the banterer, if at all, for only a brief period of time and release him unattended; after the release,the battering usually resumes. Human Rights Watch found that the police's failure to respond is particularly egregious because, at this time, criminal sanctions are the only legal protection available to battered women in Russia: Russia has no civil protection regime that would allow women to secure state-enforced protection orders from batterers without pursuing criminal charges.

Human Rights Watch found that the severe shortage of battered women's shelters—there are only two in all of Russia—and of affordable housing further contributes to the physical and mental endangerment of domestic violence victims. The absence of alternative housing options means that women are substantially restricted in their ability to escape violent partners.In many cases, battered women, even those who have divorced their violent partners, and their children have no choice but to live in the same apartment with their batterers. Although Russian law appears to provide some housing remedies—such as eviction of violent household members or apartment division—for domestic violence victims, Human Rights Watch found that these remedies are available primarily in theory and rarely in practice.

As a result of significant pressure from Russian women's rights advocates and international publicity, the government of the Russian Federation has begun to acknowledge the gravity of the problem of violence against women and has indicated a desire to improve protections for women. In February1996, the Yeltsin administration published a policy document or white paper on improving the position of women in the Russian Federation. Issued in response to the recommendations of the 1995 United Nation Fourth World Conference on the Status of Women in Beijing, this white paper called forte government to conduct an assessment of Russian legislation and to develop proposals for revisions necessary to guarantee women's rights. Stressing that violence should be prohibited in all spheres of life including workplace and home, the government pledged in the white paper to collect full and objective statistics relating to violence against women, to coordinate its efforts with non governmental women's crisis centers, and to develop criminal and civil sanctions for violence against women. In June 1996,President Yeltsin issued Decree 932, “On the Development of a National Plan of Action to Improve the Position of Women and Raise their Role in Society Before the Year 2000.” This decree seeks to facilitate implementation of resolutions made at the Beijing conference and orders a draft plan Kobe developed.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the situation of women encountering violence will actually improve. Based on current indications, the prospects appear doubtful. For example, the 1997 budget adopted by the State Duma,the lower house of parliament, allocates no money toward implementing the goals outlined in the 1996 white paper and decree. The new criminal, labor,and family law codes, all adopted in the past two years, moreover, do Littleton improve the protection of women's human rights, particularly in regard to violence. Even the most ambitious step by the government, the drafting of a family violence law by the State Duma, is seriously flawed. As many women's groups, which have encountered substantial difficulty in accessing and commenting on drafts of the law, point out, the proposed law threatens to mitigate criminal penalties for violence, endangers the existence of independent women's crisis centers, and fails to create a civil protection regime. If the past and the present are any indication of the future, it appears that the outlook for the lives of real women in Russia, rather than the ones envisioned by current political rhetoric, remains bleak.


To the Russian Government

Interior Ministry


To the United States Government

To the United Nations

To the European Union

To the OSCE

To the Council of Europe

To the World Bank