Russia’s Decriminalization of Domestic Violence – Why Report if Nothing Happens?

By Morgan Stage

In November 2016, Russia decriminalized “battery of close persons that resulted in physical pain but did not inflict harm or other consequences.”[1] This change meant that non-aggravated domestic assault was an administrative offense punishable only by fine.[2] The following year, the number of reported cases of domestic violence was cut in half.[3] Russia’s decision to decriminalize the offense sends a message to its citizens that it does not consider domestic violence without a serious injury to be important.[4]


When laws acknowledge that violent behavior is a criminal act, it sends a message to society that violence is unacceptable.[5] Russia’s decriminalization of familial battery has done just the opposite.[6] “Rules or expectations of behaviour – norms – within a cultural or social group can encourage violence.”[7] For example, laws in India, Nigeria, and Ghana establish that “a man as a right to assert power over a woman and is socially superior.”[8] Therefore, in these countries, violence against women is more socially acceptable than in countries without such laws.[9] In the same way, laws can be enacted to change societal norms.[10] Historically, domestic violence has been an issue that remains within the four walls of a home.[11] However, in many western countries this view has changed when criminal penalties were enacted for domestic abuse.[12] If a country enact laws that criminalizes familial battery, eventually the act is seen as criminal, and therefore unacceptable.[13]


Globally, domestic violence has many different labels; these include intimate partner violence (IPV), violence against women, domestic abuse, and many others.[14] Whatever it may be called, domestic violence is a global epidemic.[15] “Almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.”[16]


The effects of domestic violence stretch far and wide. Domestic abuse leads to an increase in depression and substance abuse in the abused partner.[17] Beyond mental health consequences, it has physical implications; globally 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.[18] Stretching outside of the home, domestic violence has economic effects. Domestic violence leads to increased absenteeism and decreased productivity in the workforce.[19] Victims of intimate partner violence in the United States lose a total of 8.0 million days of paid work each year.[20]


The World Health Organization defines Domestic Violence as “one or more acts of physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former partner.”[21] Physical violence is an offensive touching that could hurt the individual.[22] Sexual violence occurs when one is forced to have sexual intercourse, or one consents to the sexual intercourse but only because the individual was afraid of what his or her partner might do if one refused.[23]


International organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization have deemed domestic violence to be a violation of human rights.[24] “While [The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights] do not explicitly address domestic violence, they, along with [other documents], articulate a state’s duty to protect fundamental human rights that are commonly violated in domestic violence cases.”[25] These rights include the right to life, liberty, and security of person.[26]


            Russia did not decriminalize domestic violence entirely and therefore is not in direct violation of any of Russia’s international commitments.[27] In 2015 a bill decriminalizing non-aggravated battery was introduced by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.[28] At this time, the goal of the bill was to have fewer citizens in the criminal system and liberalize Russian criminal law.[29] The original bill presented by the Supreme Court did not differentiate between battery that occurred inside and outside of the family.[30] However, in 2015 the State Duma (lower house of the Russian legislature) took issue with the fact that familial battery would be included in this bill.[31] When the formal bill was passed and enacted in July 2016, non-aggravated battery was decriminalized but the legislature left an exception that battery of “close persons” (defined as close relatives), remained a criminal offense.”[32]


            Soon after the amendments to the criminal code were made, conservative groups took issue with the “differences in the treatment of non-aggravated battery committed within the family versus outside of the family.”[33] Conservatives took issue with the fact that a parent disciplining a child may hold higher penalties than a bar fight.[34] Conservatives also felt as though this exception meant that the government was reaching too far into the private life of individuals especially if the incident is found to be a one-time familial issue.[35]


            As a result, in November 2016, another bill was introduced. This time the bill proposed that the “battery of close persons” exception be removed.[36] The bill was passed in February 2017.[37] As Russian law stands today, Domestic Violence is not criminally punishable unless the incident leads to lasting injury, or is found to be a repeat offense.[38] A spokesperson for the Russian President said “that it would not be appropriate to identify domestic violence with some insignificant manifestations of abuse,” but that he did not think that this change in the law was a dismissal of the issue of domestic violence.[39]


            However, the consequences of this bill are already being felt. As stated above, formal reports of domestic violence in Russia has nearly been cut in half.[40] “A total 36,037 domestic violence cases were reported in 2017, compared with 65,543 in 2016.”[41] Unfortunately, Russia can now use statistics like the one above to say that this is due to a decrease in domestic violence.[42] However, this is not the case; the number of anonymous calls to Russian National Hotline for Domestic Violence reported an increase in calls from 20,000 in 2016 to 27,000 in 2017.[43] “According to, more than 16 million women a year are estimated to experience domestic violence in Russia, but only 10% of them go to the police.”[44]


            As stated above, domestic violence is not just a private issue that the government should stay out of; it has societal and economic issues that stretch outside of the home.[45] Russian lawmakers are choosing ignore these issues, and listen only to the conservatives.[46] Victims in Russia are less likely to ask for help now than before because reporting leadings to nothing more than a slap on the wrist coupled with a financial penalty.[47] Russia’s decriminalization of non-aggravated familial battery is essentially telling society that “violence, so long as it does not create a lasting injury, is acceptable.”[48] Russia’s decriminalization of domestic violence is a blatant disregard of the basic human right to feel secure.

[1] The Law Library of Congress, Russian Federation: Decriminalization of Domestic Violence at 3-4 (2017).

[2] See id.

[3] See Marinna Spring, Decriminalization of Domestic Violence in Russia Leads to a Fall in Reported Cases; Campaigners Say Sharp Decline is Due to New Law Deterring Women from Contacting Police, The Guardian (London), Aug. 16, 2018.

[4] See id.

[5] The World Health Organization, Violence Prevention – The Evidence, Overview, at 1 (2009).

[6] See Spring, supra note 3.

[7] Violence Prevention – The Evidence, supra note 5.

[8] Id. at 5.

[9] See id.

[10] See id. at 1.

[11] See Anna Clark, Domestic Violence, Past and Present, 23 J. of Women’s History 193, 193 (2011).

[12] See id.

[13] See Violence Prevention – The Evidence, supra note 5.

[14] See e.g. Intimate Partner Violence, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (last visited Sep. 3, 2018); World Health Organization, Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and health effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence at 7 (2013).

[15] See Violence Against Women: a ‘Global Health Problem of Epidemic Proportions,” The World Health Organization (June 20, 2013)

[16] Violence Against Women, The World Health Organization (Nov. 29, 2017),

[17] See Violence Against Women: a ‘Global Health Problem of Epidemic Proportions,” supra note 12.

[18] Violence Against Women, supra note 16.

[19] See Ansuya Harjani, Domestic Violence Results in Huge Costs for Economy, CNBC, Nov. 24 2013,

[20] See E.F. Rothman, J. Hathaway, A. Stidsen & H.F De Vries, How Employment Helps Female Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: A Qualitative Study, 12 J. of Occupational Health Psychology 136, 140 (2007).

[21] World Health Organization, Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and health effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence at 7 (2013).

[22] See id.

[23] See id.

[24] See UN Treaties on Domestic Violence, Stop Violence Against Women, (last visited Aug. 29, 2018)

[25] Id.

[26] See id.

[27] See The Law Library of Congress, Russian Federation: Decriminalization of Domestic Violence at 4 (2017).

[28] See id. at 2.

[29] See id. at 2-3.

[30] See id.

[31] See id.

[32] See id.

[33] Id. at 3-4.

[34] See id.

[35] See id.

[36] See id.

[37] See id.

[38] See id.

[39] See id.

[40] See Spring, supra note 3.

[41] Id.

[42] See id.

[43] See id.

[44] Id.

[45] See Harjani, supra note 19; see also  Rothman, supra note 20.

[46] See The Law Library of Congress, supra note 27 at 3-4.

[47] See Spring, supra note 3.

[48] See Violence Prevention – The Evidence, supra note 5.