No Place to Escape

No Place to Escape


Domestic violence is not considered a crime in Russian society. Meanwhile, in the conditions of the ongoing self-isolation due to the coronavirus epidemic, there has been a huge spike in domestic violence.

A recent incident in Moscow’s Ostankino district got into the crime news. A housewife was cooking dinner when something frustrated her husband off. During the altercation, he threw a hot frying pan with potatoes boiling in oil into her. The woman with severe burns was taken away by an ambulance. According to doctors, “they would have to put her face together bit by bit.” A hot-tempered macho ended up in a police station. A criminal case was initiated.

The social networks are full of reports of on-the-verge situations:

“We are staying at home altogether: my husband, two children, my mother and I. We go out only for food shopping once a week. There is a real pandemonium at home: my husband is drinking and the kids are screaming. I’m feeling blue.”

Some of the cases are really scandalous. In the Sverdlovsk region, a mother of two children became a victim of physical abuse. Her spouse who had issues with alcohol beat and chained her to a battery.

The lockdown in Russia lasts slightly more than a month, and alcohol sales have grown by a third in the course of it. How to survive self-isolation and prevent the situation from becoming extremely dramatic?

The longer domestic tyrants are locked up, the more dangerous it will be to their families. Their aggression is primarily directed toward the most vulnerable family members -- the elderly, women and children. In peacetime, their victims may find refuge with their relatives and friends or report them to the police.

Today, they are deprived of the opportunity to leave the house and ask for help or discreetly call the emergency services. The situation is so tense that in early April, human rights organizations in Russia sent a joint letter to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and governors of the regions asking them to take measures to protect the victims. The letter was signed by Zona Prava,, Sisters, Kitezh, TyneOdna and ANNA women's centers, the Pravovaya Initsyativa [Legal Initiative] project, and other non-governmental organizations.

The initiatives call for creating temporary shelters for victims, for example, at hotels or hostels which are empty anyway. Demand number two is to oblige the police to respond to reports of domestic abuse, to stay away from fining the quarantine violators if they have to flee the consequences of aggression, to create an atmosphere of public condemnation of violence, and to make information about help services and hotlines available.

At present, women's shelters are forced to meet self-isolation requirements. They are not allowed to accept victims who were previously provided with housing and financial support for as long as three months.

No one knows when the lockdown ends. All efforts are being focused on overcoming the epidemic of the novel coronavirus infection. At the same time, there are no fewer cases of domestic violence. It is hard to assess emotional distress and psychological consequences.

Moreover, this is a global issue that is being discussed in the UN. Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said that under self-isolation “a person’s home may become a place of fear and abuse.”

According to CNN, when the pandemic started, there was a huge spike in women's appeals to rescue services over domestic violence in the U.S. A nationwide helpline receives up to 2,000 calls a day. Shelters are placed under the quarantine but they pay sometimes for hotel rooms with their own funds for those women who have to leave home by all means. It is still a question what is more terrible -- to die from a virus or at the hands of an angry partner.

Europe has found a solution to how women can report a critical situation in the family. If a woman does not have access to the phone but manages to go out to the pharmacy, she should inform a pharmacist by using a code word: mask19. It will be a signal that she needs help.

The Malaysian authorities, on the contrary, recommended that housewives “put on makeup, get dressed neatly and avoid complaining” so as not to bother their husbands. This advice caused a storm of protest on the social media. So, the publication was immediately removed from the website, and its authors had to apologize to the readers.

According to the Zona Prava human rights organization, more than 50 complaints over domestic violence were received during several days of the hotline. Only in 10 cases the victims agreed to leave their contact details. The appeals are coming from different parts of Russia -- the Moscow, Perm and Sverdlovsk regions, St. Petersburg, Republic of Tatarstan, and so on.

“In most cases, the applicants asked for legal information: to what agencies they should apply and what documents are needed to address the Investigative Committee or to file a legal claim,” notes Valentina Frolova, a lawyer and supervisor of women and children's rights protection. “At the same time, many applicants are confused: due to the restrictive measures introduced in the regions, people do not understand what they should do and what agencies work and what their working hours are.”

What is the experts’ opinion on that? Psychologist Nadezhda Yakimovich commented on the situation:

“Severe isolation negatively affects human’s psyche. There are several harmful factors at once: reduction of private space, physical mobility restrictions, lack of fresh air, monotonous activities, a narrower circle of communication, and absence of interests. The above-mentioned harmful circumstances may annoy any person but everyone copes with them in their own way.

A person with mental disorder who is unable to control his or her behavior begins to display psychopathic traits. One easily vents his or her anger and irritation on the family members. However, mentally healthy people may have the same reactions. Any person, if he or she is not a clinical patient, is able to cope with his or her own emotions if they want. Resistance and self-control are not innate but quite trainable qualities. The lockdown reveals to what extent they are well-shaped.”

Reality shows that not everyone managed to form self-control when the quarantine started. What can we do to protect ourselves from domestic violence? Lawyer Valentina Frolova gives the following recommendations:

- collect and give your documents, money, a backup phone, duplicates of keys and essentials to your neighbors in case of emergency and necessity to leave the apartment;

- don't hide the violence towards you; it could cost you your life;

- be in touch with your friends and relatives;

- in case of a death threat, call the police immediately and ask to protect your safety;

- in a personal injury case, seek medical attention and ask for medical record of what happened; the doctors will report the documents to the police, and they are crucial for holding your abuser accountable;

- remember that your actions to protect yourself from violence cannot be limited even during an epidemic.

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