Violence Against Women in Russia

Elena Anasova// Section

Photography series tells the stories of Russia’s female prisoners

Domestic violence against women remains a global issue. According to UN Women, 70% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual abuse from their partners in their lives. This is over double the number of women who have experienced abuse from a stranger. Statistics like this can often get overlooked, as home is a place associated with safety. However, sadly it is the place that many women are the most vulnerable.

The concept of marriage has changed over time and in most of the developed world is now predominantly associated with love. However, in many countries, marriage is still deeply rooted in patriarchal ideas. The unequal power dynamic this creates is one of the root causes of domestic violence. This is particularly visible in Russia; a society where culture is steeped in patriarchal tradition.

Elena Anasova// Section

An old Russian proverb states: “if he beats you, it means he loves you”. Dating back to the 15th Century, this phrase has long told Russian women to be proud of their bruises, suggesting that they are the outward symbol of a loving relationship. It suggests that a wife is her husband’s property; and her primary function is his emotional release.

Worryingly, recent reports have found that this turn of phrase is being used increasingly often. Women are referring to it when asked why they are staying with their abusive husbands, and victims of domestic violence are citing it when questioned on trial. It seems that Russian culture embraces domestic abuse; which makes it very difficult for women who are seeking help to come forward.

Elena Anasova // Section

This condoning of domestic abuse is also reflected in government policy. Previously in Russia, a man engaging in domestic violence could be sentenced to two years in jail. However, things took a frightening turn for the worse in 2017, when the Russian government passed the controversial ‘slapping law’.

The new legislation meant that men no longer faced prison sentences for beating their wives; so long as no bones were broken and it was a first-time offence. Instead, they would have to pay a fine – a move that would financially impact the whole family and leave the woman still vulnerable to her husband’s wrath. Most importantly, it sent out the worrying message that the Russian government were not prepared to take domestic abuse seriously.

Consequently, it is estimated that only 30% of domestic abuse cases in Russia are reported. Women receive little sympathy from the authorities, who commonly believe that domestic violence is a trivial issue that should be resolved within the home. Being unable to turn to the authorities, many women find themselves trapped in a frightening and isolating situation.

Elena Anasova // Section

If a woman decides to run, she will not have anywhere to go. In the capital city of Moscow, which has a population of 12 million, there is only 1 sanctuary for women fleeing situations of domestic violence. This does not even nearly cater for the staggering 36,000 women whom the Moscow Times estimate get beaten by their partners every day. Therefore, many women who flee end up living on the streets; putting themselves in as much danger as they were in at home.

Equally, if a woman decides to stay and fight, the outcome is just as bleak. Many women find themselves in jail for fighting back against their abusive husbands. In result, they will be separated from their children, and left with a criminal record that will stigmatize them for life.

Elena Anasova// Section

Elena Anasova is a photographer from the Baikal region of North Eastern Siberia. She works with subjects of borders, identity, and collective memory. As part of a trilogy on Russian women in closed institutions, she has captured the stories of female convicts incarcerated in a Siberian prison. Through her images, she explores isolation and confinement. She is interested in how identities are often disfigured and traumatized whilst in confinement; and particularly the impact that the constant 24hr surveillance has upon women.

“There are a lot of women in the colonies convicted for excessive self-defense; cases related to protecting themselves, their families or children, [and] standing up to domestic violence” – Elena Anasova

Her images not only show the physical incarceration of her female subjects, but also allude to the wider issue of female confinement in Russian society. Anasova suggests that the prisons can be interpreted as microcosms of wider society, in which many women have a claustrophobic lack of autonomy within their relationships.

“Almost half of Russians believe that victims of violence are the ones to blame for what happened. Half of Russians are also convinced that public statements about violence destroy traditional values such as family, loyalty, love” – Elena Anosova

Elena Anosova // Section

Anasova is interested in how the stigma of prison conviction is much more powerful for women than for men. Male convicts are statistically more likely to have a supportive family waiting for them on the outside. The majority of female convicts are left by their husbands, meaning they have little stability to return to in the outside world. This often leads to a cycle of re-offence.

“The worst thing is that society and ordinary people don’t see [them as] people any more” – Elena Anasova

Also, men have a much higher chance of finding employment post-sentence. Anasova explains that this is mainly because men in Russia tend to have jobs that use their hands – such as mechanics and taxi drivers. These professions are far less likely to screen for criminal convictions than predominantly female professions such as childcare and nursing.

Elena Anasova // Section

In Russia, there is no rehabilitation program for women leaving prison. They are often left completely isolated from their friends, family, and society. In some cases, they are even left without clothes, with the original clothes they were convicted in having been lost many years ago.

“Only around page 20 the viewer realizes it’s [images] of a colony, and almost every second person who looked at the book couldn’t believe these young beautiful women from the start of the book exist in prison” – Elena Anasova

Through ‘Section’, Anasova aims to show the humanity and vulnerability of her subjects. She wishes to show that the prisoners are mothers and daughters and wives, each with their own story, in hope of removing the stigma against female convicts. Through her images, she breaks their isolation. She invokes both sympathy and empathy from the viewer; and makes the prisoner human again.

To raise awareness and funds for the victims of gender-based violence, take part in The Circle’s upcoming campaign Chai Day. Download your pack today!

Written by Emily Earnshaw. Emily is a freelance writer with a particular interest in human rights and environmental issues.

 

#ChaiDay #WomenEmpoweringWomen #OneReasonImWhyAGlobalFeminist

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