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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hotline Helps Hot-Headed Males

A man is beating his wife. The woman asks through her tears, "Why are you beating me?" The husband responds, "If I could think of a reason, I would kill you."

Russians laugh at this old joke, says Andrei Sinyelnikov, and that is a frightening indicator of the acceptance of domestic violence in Russian society. Sinyelnikov is piloting the country's first help group and telephone hotline for men who beat women.

"Most men don't understand that though their wives may provoke them or do something to make them angry, it is ultimately their own decision to raise a fist," Sinyelnikov said. "They've seen their fathers act in the same way, and think it is normal."

A few weeks ago, Sinyelnikov, 29, received a call from a concerned father. His 8-year-old son, until then outgoing and calm, had started wetting his bed and stopped smiling or interacting with friends. The father acknowledged that he regularly beat his wife in front of the child, but couldn't believe that this might be a factor in the boy's unhappiness.

Russian men view women as sexual objects and friendship without sexual attraction is rare, Sinyelnikov said. He himself acknowledges he did not realize this until his sister got married and was verbally abused by her husband.

"I was shocked," he said. "Someone I had considered a human being was now being treated by her own husband as an object, and then I realized I didn't see the girls in my class much differently."

At the hotline, counselors advise callers to try to identify when rage is coming on, and then before it builds, take a walk or call a friend. Many times they call the hotline to talk out their anger, often complaining about their wives' behavior. Sinyelnikov tries to steer them away from blaming the woman.

"It is irrelevant and distracts the men from the real problem -- them," he said.

Dissatisfaction in the family is a growing problem. In 1996, 65 percent of Russian women said they were unhappy with their marriages, according to the Moscow Center for Gender Studies. Two out of three marriages end in divorce.

There are no representative statistics on domestic violence. In 1995, there were only 641 registered cases of domestic violence against women. But fewer than 2 percent of women report such instances, reluctant to damage their husbands' reputation or livelihood, upon which they are often dependent, according to the women's crisis group Lana in the Siberian city of Nizhny Tagil.

Sinyelnikov and his team of 10 male counselors field calls both at their homes and through the Moscow-based women's crisis hotline Anna. They plan to move into their own offices by February and offer group sessions in which men can informally talk about loss of control and rage. Sinyelnikov hopes new federal legislation pertaining to domestic violence -- currently being drafted by the State Duma's committee on women and children -- will include a section offering rehabilitation programs as an alternative to prison.

Hotline counselor Ilya Volga, 27, has two friends who have been together for more than 10 years, through bouts of violence and splitting up. "He beats her, for example, when dinner isn't ready or when he's in a bad mood. And they fight. But they are in love and will probably never leave each other," he said. "For some it is simply OK. They will be the hardest to reach, for they have already learned to accept it."

A distraught man called recently, saying his wife had just left him. They had fought when the man came home and discovered that his wife and toddler had found and brought home a kitten. Angered that they had not consulted him, he picked up the kitten by its hind legs and smashed its head against the table, killing it in front of his wife and child. "I just want a normal life," he told Sinyelnikov, "one in which my wife listens to her husband."

When Sinyelnikov pointed out that a healthy family relationship requires that both partners listen to each others' needs, the man slammed down the phone.