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Russian Activist Decries Apathy on Domestic Violence

(Washington, DC--March 14, 2003) Domestic violence, particularly against women, persists in Russia because society condones it and it is "almost impossible" to defend the human rights of women, according to a community leader working in the field.

Elena Schitova, Executive Director of the Women's Alliance in Barnaul, Russia (Altai and Siberian regions), told an RFE/RL audience last week that domestic violence against women continues unabated, and that between 12,000 and 14, 000 women each year are killed by their spouses or companions -- in other words, a woman in the Russian Federation is killed by her husband or partner every 40 seconds.

Schitova said that strong stereotypes which blame women for provoking domestic violence also blame social activists like Schitova for "[bringing] this problem [to Russia] from the West." Local and national newspapers and media perpetuate myths surrounding domestic violence, according to Schitova, and rarely acknowledge that domestic violence as such is a societal problem.

Schitova and the volunteers of her NGO, the Women's Alliance, focus on intervention in cases of domestic violence, providing counseling and implementing education programs for the police, judicial authorities, defense lawyers and the general public. Schitova's group also runs the Women's Crisis Center in Barnaul, but find it difficult to fund a true homeless shelter for abused women and children. Schitova said only five or six shelters for abused women exist throughout the entire Russian Federation.

Amnesty International USA is assisting the Women's Alliance and others working to protect women in Russia from domestic violence. Amnesty has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to set up a national plan to combat violence against women that would include supporting NGO crisis centers, establishing shelters for women and their children, and launching a public awareness campaign.

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