In order to uphold the so-called traditional and conservative values – where what happens within the family stays there, Russian legislators amended the country’s law last year by decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence.
Russia offers little legal and physical protection to the victims of domestic abuse. As a result, the number of reported incidents fell dramatically as the change, subsequently, led to physical abuse being punishable by a fine rather than time in prison,.
However, amid reports of the plight of women, the case of Yana Gurcheva and Galina Katorova, who were acquitted after being arrested for stabbing their husbands to death, stirred a ripple in Russia’s new media.
Gurcheva, an engineer, was married to Vasily I Yurchik, a Ukrainian, who worked various construction jobs. However, the 40-year-old man who was once a clever, athletic man turned into a nasty alcoholic after the two got married and started to hit his wife.
“It was all gradual,” the 37-year-old said in an interview in her lawyer’s office. “You hope it will get better, but we now know the outcome.”
However, things went out of hands one night when Yurchik woke up from a drunken stupor and started to beat and choke his wife upon discovering she had only cooked for herself. Gurcheva frantically looked around to find something to hit him with. Her hands landed on a knife which she used to stab him in the upper chest – a wound that took Yurchik’s life.
“I was afraid for myself and for my children,” she said. “I reached my limit and wanted to hit him with something, anything. If I had found a toy on the table, I would have hit him with that. I didn’t even look to see what was there. It happened to be a knife.”
Gurcheva didn’t flee the scene. She wiped off the blood to prevent her two young daughters from witnessing the gruesome scene.
The woman was sentenced to six years in prison after prosecutors argued she was guilty of murder because she didn’t escape the scene.
Ultimately, it was the woman’s 4-year-old daughter who was presented as the witness before the court by Gurcheva’s lawyer, Alexander Fomin.
“Mommy and Daddy fought. They said bad words. They fought often. This time, Daddy took Mommy by the throat and choked her. Mommy hit him with a knife,” said the daughter.
Fortunately, the other woman, Katorova also had a witness who saw the 40-year-old’s husband tried to strangle her with a rope before she lashed out with a knife.
She was initially sentenced to three years in prison.
“Here, the woman is always the accused; for some reason the sympathy always lies with the aggressor,” said Yelena Solovyova, the defence lawyer for Katorova in Nakhodka. “This was such an ideological victory for me, because for the first time the court heard that you cannot blame the victim, you cannot transfer all the blame to the woman.”
The controversial amendments to the Russian law have often been condemned by the women’s rights activists who believe the system has provided an easy get away for those men who have a terrible penchant of subjecting their spouses to physical abuse.
“It is very difficult to explain in Russia that domestic violence is not a family conflict, it is violence,” said Marina Pisklakova-Parker, founder of the National Centre for the Prevention of Violence. “Our main problem is the lack of a system of response.”
She also argued the decrease in the reported cases in not something to rejoice but to be even more concerned about.
“The combination of the state and helpline statistics show that domestic violence has not decreased in Russia, but rather the opposite,” said Parker. “State statistics reflect only criminal cases where the state could respond according to the existing system of legislation ... The amendment offers domestic abusers this easy out, and so the decriminalisation has proven to be very dangerous to the safety of thousands of Russian women suffering from men’s domestic violence.”
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