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Legal rights elusive for Russian women

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

MOSCOW — Ekaterina Vinogorova almost wishes her ex-husband had done more than just break her nose and a few ribs when they lived together.

Under the Russian criminal code, those injuries were not severe enough to warrant the police prosecuting him for assault. She had to resort to a lawsuit, taking him to court on a claim of domestic beating. A judge found him guilty in 2011 and fined him 25,000 rubles (about $800), short of the maximum 40,000.

“He walks free, unpunished,” said Vinogorova, 42, a mother of three who works as a beautician in Moscow and is fighting another court battle with her ex-spouse over child visitation rights. “It's really frightening.”

Russia has few legal safeguards for women like Vinogorova, and legislation that would recognize domestic violence as a crime has been stalled for 17 years. Activists who recently stepped up lobbying efforts face resistance from the Russian Orthodox Church and allies of President Vladimir Putin who promote what they view as traditional Russian family values.

“Russia is behind when it comes to legal protection for women. It doesn't have the basic parameters that women need to be protected from domestic abuse,” said Gauri van Gulik, a Berlin-based women's rights campaigner at Human Rights Watch. “The economic costs of domestic violence are incredibly high, so it's not just important for women; it's important for the development of the country itself.”

Russia is the only member of the Group of Eight nations in which family violence or sexual abuse is not recognized as a separate crime.

Former Soviet states, including Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, have criminalized it. Even Saudi Arabia, where women can't drive or be in public unveiled, made it a crime two months ago, punishable by as long as a year in prison and as much as a 50,000 riyal ($13,300) fine.

Women in Russia need such a law more than most, said Marina Pisklakova-Parker, head of the Moscow-based Anna Center for victims of domestic abuse.

A popular proverb in the country of 142 million — “He beats her, he loves her” — underscores how widespread the conviction is that physical violence is not necessarily anything to worry about in a marriage, and certainly shouldn't be the state's business.

Violence against women is endemic. Each year, about 14,000 — more than one per hour — die at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to data submitted to the United Nations in May by the Health Ministry and Federal Statistics Service.

Other government statistics show that almost a quarter of women report being sexually or physically abused at home.

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