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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anya's Story: Fearing to Fight Domestic Abuse

Anya was kicked repeatedly in the stomach and back, bitten on the shoulder, and thrown down a flight of stairs at 3 a.m. Despite the violence, she felt there was nothing to do but sit on the curb and wait for the metro to open again.

Hailing down a police car or pressing charges against a wealthy, Western man seemed to her a joke, she said. She as well as Russian officials say they feel Russian society is unsympathetic toward problems of domestic violence. And if it's a foreigner perpetrating the violence, legal action seems even more unrealistic, Anya said.

It is no secret that violence against women is a formidable problem in Russia. The Interior Ministry estimates that 80 percent of violent crimes take place within the home, though the number which are directly against women is still unrecorded. Statistics also suggest that half of Russia's murders are committed by husbands against their wives.

But police have few statistics on domestic abuse committed by or against foreigners. It isn't just that no one is collecting complaints but also that few are complaining.

"Those kind of statistics don't really exist. And I don't really know why," said Moscow police spokesman Gennady Melnik. Police collect numbers on crimes committed by foreigners, but they do not specify the type of crime they have committed, he said.

Anya, however, remembers the crime well. She had been at her friend Lena's home when Lena's American boyfriend and his American friend came in, drunk. When Anya refused to kiss Lena's boyfriend, pushing him away in protest, "something snapped, and he went crazy," Anya said. "I never would have expected that from him, a cultured, educated, seemingly nice foreign man not suffering from poverty or alcoholism or anything."

But Anya believes that even if she had gone to the police to report the attack, nothing would have been done. "Even if I had reported him, who are they going to believe, me or him," she said. "He's wealthy, the manager of a firm, an American, and he was my host that night. I was in his home. The police would have done absolutely nothing."

Moscow-based psychologist Chana Winer said expatriates often benefit from preferential treatment at the hands of law enforcement authorities.

"As expats we are both more exposed and more protected under the law," she said. "It goes both ways and, as more expats are learning, if we do something that is against the law, no one is going to hold us accountable."

Winer believes many incidents of abuse by foreigners can be linked to their use of alcohol and to the environments in which they and their parents were raised.

"You learn what you see and not what you're taught," she said. "Most of us baby boomers grew up in homes that were not equal. And though baby boomers are proud of their intellectual equality and their double career homes, it is easy to forget the intellectual and go back to what was emotionally taught, to an environment where violence was condoned."

In addition, some Russian women may consider violence in a relationship to be normal, said Marina Pisklakova, who in 1993 founded Russia's first women's crisis hotline, "Anna."

"There is a notion that still exists here, that the rich man has the right to do whatever he wants with his property," Pisklakova said. "And a rich foreign man, he is like a prince. He is in many young Russian girls' eyes the prince from far away, who is cultured and rich, and who might just be able to take them out of here."

Domestic abuse is still not recognized as a serious problem in Russia, said Igor Khamenev, chairman of the Duma's committee on women, family and youth affairs. And the Duma has not passed any laws defining or setting penalties for domestic violence specifically, he said.

"Many of the Duma deputies think it is not an issue but a private matter that the state shouldn't touch," he said.

For a victimized woman, getting help from the police often all depends on whether the officer who responds to the call is sympathetic to her problem, said Pisklakova. In Anya's case, she said, "with a rich foreigner, he's pretty much free to do what he wants. The laws don't say that, but that's the reality."

Anya never reported the incident to the police. She had planned to, but reconsidered when she remembered how they responded to a complaint three years ago. She had been beaten up in her dormitory by a drug-pushing hall neighbor, slammed against the shower tiles until she blacked out. When she came to, she saw her attacker waiting to start the blows again, and she screamed loud enough for a security guard to hear.

"I was lucky enough that the guard came and knocked on the door. But his reaction to my beaten up face then was, 'Listen, miss, what's your problem. It's nothing too scary,'" she said. "When I went to the police, they told me I had to fill out a formal complaint and pulled out a stack 10 centimeters high of complaints on that particular guy. So I filled mine out and added it to the pile. And the next day he was walking around, just like always."

Zynaida Batrakova, deputy chair of the Moscow Union of Lawyers, said that even when authorities do respond, many women often refrain from pressing charges out of a fear of injuring their relationship, either with their Russian or foreign partner.

"A woman being beaten up by her husband would call for help. Then facing a jail fine that would sit on the family budget, and the fact that the situation would be worse when he got out of jail, many women would beg the police not to put the man in jail," Batrakova said. "The police start to think of it all as a joke, even when it is very serious."

But even if some women are reluctant to pursue complaints through legal means, Pisklakova said her hotline is testimony to the increasing willingness of Russian women to seek counseling or informal help on their domestic situations.

The hotline now receives 250 calls each month, about 35 percent of which are about domestic violence between husband and wife. A year ago the hotline was receiving just over 100 calls a month, Pisklakova said.

"But I wish I knew how many women [who have been abused] never do call us," Pisklakova said. "I can assure you there are very, very many."