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Domestic Violence Kills One Russian Woman Every Hour

Every hour in Russia, a woman dies at the hands of a relative, partner, or former partner, according to a new report on domestic violence by Amnesty International. The report, entitled "Nowhere to turn to - violence against women in the family," takes Russia's government to task for failing to adequately address the problem.

Svetlana is one of the lucky ones. She survived 10 years of marriage to an abusive alcoholic, the last seven years of which were fraught with increased beatings and hospital visits. She told VOA that for several years her husband even beat her in front of their young daughter.

But Svetlana, whose last name is being withheld for her protection, says she never called the police for fear of what he might do. When Svetlana finally summoned the courage to report her husband's actions, after one particularly bad beating, she says the police came to their house, but believed his side of the story that everything was okay between them. Immediately after the police left, she says, the beatings started again.  Svetlana says she felt utterly alone in trying to solve the problem.

Hers is a grim, but familiar story across Russia, where Amnesty International says domestic violence against women is mostly ignored by the authorities, with horrific results.

According to the most recent Russian Interior Ministry figures, 9,000 women were killed by a partner or relative in Russia in 2003. The Interior Ministry also notes that 60 to 75 percent of women killed by a partner were killed after the relationship ended.

But other than keeping sketchy figures of the killings, Amnesty campaigner Friederike Behr says Russian authorities are doing very little to tackle the problem. Ms. Behr says, as a member of the Council of Europe and signatory to a number of international human rights conventions, Russia has an obligation to actively protect the rights of all Russian women.

"Too often the authorities claim that it is not their business, that they can't do something against this problem," said Friederike Behr. "That is simply not true. They need to raise awareness about the problem. They need to make it clear that it is a criminal offense to beat someone, no matter what the circumstance."

Ms. Behr says there is also a need for many more 24-hour call centers and physical shelters in Russia, where women can get the critical help they need in the event of abuse.

One of the more shocking statistics in the Amnesty report is that the capital city - Moscow - with a population numbering well over 10 million, does not have a single shelter to house victims of domestic violence. The nearest shelter is in Khimki, on the Northern outskirts, and Muscovites are not afforded service there because they do not have residency status for Khimki.

Svetlana says she wishes there had been a shelter available for her and her child, so that she could have escaped her abusive husband sooner.  She says she was only able to break the cycle of violence, once she found psychological and legal support. After calling several hotlines for help, she says refuge came from a Moscow-based group known as "Anna," one of the few remaining non-governmental organizations in Russia dealing with domestic violence.

Andrei Sinelnikov is a member of Anna, or the Association No to Violence. He says that at least 18 non-governmental organizations or charities working on issues of domestic violence against women have been closed in Russia this year alone, due to a lack of federal and local funding.

In his view, the Russian government does not view domestic violence as a big enough problem requiring serious funds and resources - in comparison to combating international terrorism for example. As a result, Mr. Sinelnikov says front-line officials who confront domestic abuse on a daily basis, from police to judges to health care workers, also do not take violence against women very seriously.

"All members of these professions should be made more aware of domestic violence as a serious crime and they should feel responsible for [carrying out an] effective response," said Andrei Sinelnikov. "Unfortunately, right now, this issue is not included in the training and curriculum for such professional groups."

Mr. Sinelnikov says women also have a responsibility to educate themselves about their rights. But Ms. Behr of Amnesty International says that hasn't always been easy in Russia where, she says, a culture of violence, as the norm, has prevailed for far too long. "I think that's also a big problem that many people feel they don't have the right," she said. "That maybe it is a generous gesture from the state to provide shelters, or to provide free legal advise, and it is not. It is a duty of the state."

Ms. Behr says Amnesty International is urging the Russian government to enact and enforce proper criminal laws, which recognize violence against women in the family as a distinct and serious crime. As it stands now, she says, many Russian authorities assert that domestic violence is a private matter, beyond the bounds of the state.

Russian officials were not available to speak to VOA on their government's position on the subject of violence against women. There is no record of any official policy statement on the subject.

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