Within every state, leaders strive to find a perfect equilibrium between individual liberty and the state’s responsibility to protect its people. The balance found, however, is often based on the ideals of the system of government in place. Finding this balance is complex enough on its own, and becomes far more complex when one considers the corruption of Russia’s government and the KGB officer-turned-president, Vladimir Putin. Russia’s recent decision to pass a bill to decriminalize domestic violence, then, has many wondering what the true motives of this bill are. Does the government believe it to be in the nation’s best interest, or was it passed to alleviate financial burdens and reinforce gender inequality and the old Russian proverb, “if he beats you it means he loves you?” It is also important to consider that even if the government believes it is in the state’s best interest, does it have a responsibility to protect and punish violent actions taken inside families, or is it acceptable to allow families individual liberty to make their own judgment calls?
The bill will decriminalize any domestic violence cases that “does not cause ‘bodily harm’ and does not occur more than once a year,” according to USA Today’s Doug Stanglin. This applies to any cases of inter-family violence, whether it is between a husband and wife, or a parent and children. Essentially, criminal liability is waived so long as it meets the previously mentioned requirements; perpetrators in this case are instead punished by a fine of around $500 or a 15-day arrest. Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Kremlin, relayed to the press that “family conflicts ‘do not necessarily constitute domestic violence.’”
This reasoning is the main argument for many proponents of the bill. Russian officials do not feel that meddling in family affairs is appropriate, and view minor instances of violence between family members as the family’s choice way to handle conflict. Stanglin says that a state-run polling firm found that 19% of Russians deem it acceptable to hit a spouse or child “in certain circumstances.” The Interior Ministry of Russia reported that 36,000 women are beaten by their partners every day, and 26,000 children are assaulted by their parents yearly. However, Stanglin reminds us that this new bill should come as no surprise, since last year a bill was passed decriminalizing cases of battery as long as no bodily harm was caused, but preserved criminality in cases of battery against family members. Considering this initial legal change, it seems logical to extend the decriminalization of battery to violence among any combination of people.
However, should there be distinction between harm caused to family versus harm caused to others? This is a tough question because, objectively, each person is equally important, so no one should get a special pass because of a familial relationship. On the other hand, people tend to have a closer psychological and, to a certain extent, biological bond to family members, meaning that any wrongs committed against someone by a spouse or parent would likely be much more detrimental. The expectation of trust between family members is betrayed in circumstances of domestic violence. The decriminalization of domestic violence only discusses constraints regarding physical harm, disregarding the potentially more severe psychological damage that can be done.
The precedent Russia has set in regards to embracing humanity’s violent nature is important to examine. Thousands of years of history have proven that humans have an instinct to react violently when provoked, whether out of fear for physical danger or out of emotional turmoil. The world will get to see what it looks like to acknowledge and normalize some of these violent tendencies as opposed to harshly punishing them. However, at what cost to individuals, particularly women and children, will this attempt at acceptance come? In a certain manner, it seems Russia is attempting to instill individual liberty, giving citizens more leeway to directly govern themselves; a member of the Russian parliament said “in certain countries the state’s role in family life is way too much. Today’s vote will end such practices in the Russian Federation.” What remains unclear is Russia’s true motives and the net effect the decriminalization will have. Russia is striking an uneasy balance between the state’s protection of its people and individual liberty and accountability.