Hotlines ease Russian victims

MOSCOW ‹ Scorned by the police and spurned by the courts, Russiaıs battered women are crying out for help on new hotlines that are springing up for the victims of domestic violence.

ŒŒYou donıt feel well? Iım listening, Iım listening,ıı a volunteer says in a soothing voice after answering a call to the Womenıs Crisis Center in Moscow.

For decades, Soviet authorities denied the existence of domestic violence. Now out in the open, the problem is growing worse with the stress of the transition to a freer society.

In 1991, the final year of the Soviet Unionıs existence, 5,300 Russian women were murdered in cases ranging from wife beating to robbery, according to statistics. In 1994, 15,000 were killed in domestic violence cases alone. That figure is expected to rise this year.

Joblessnes, falling wages and despair over the collapse of a secure way of life have created new strains in Russian families. The easy availability of firearms has led many Russians to resolve disputes through violence.

ŒŒThe acute situation we have in Russia is the main reason men have turned to violence,ıı said Ella Pamfilova, a former social welfare minister. ŒŒItıs their way of externalizing their general dissatisfaction with life.ıı

Margarita Novikovaıs husband whacked her around for the better part of a decade, but after he punched her in the face and broke her nose last year the 32-year-old journalist decided that sheıd had enough.

Once she had summoned the courage to leave, getting out was not easy. Her husband, a wealthy businessman, threatened to bribe the judge to get custody of their 6-year-old son and for a long time refused to sign the papers giving her possession of their apartment.

ŒŒWe have practically no organizations to which a woman can turn with their domestic problems. And the police ‹ well the police are the police. They come when you call but thatıs as far as the matter goes,ıı Novikova said.

Most Russian women are not as lucky as Novikova, who has managed to start a new life in a sunny apartment full of books, paintings and even a new puppy for her son, Roman.

Russian women are fighting ignorance and a common belief that women are to blame for violence in the home. According to an old Russian saying, ŒŒIf he beats you, he loves you.ıı

ŒŒThere is no understanding of what beating is,ıı said Marina Piskaklova, a sociologist and founder of the Womenıs Crisis Center. ŒŒWe didnıt discuss this problem before.ıı

Because of a desperate shortage of housing, many Russian women must remain in the same apartments with abusive, often alcholic husbands.

Russiaıs transition from a planned economy in which everyone was guaranteed a job to the free market has hurt women, many of whom are now unemployed or earn far less than men.

It is these desperate women who are calling the Womenıs Crisis Center, which Piskaklova started two years ago in a small room at a research institute in southwestern Moscow.

The centerıs 17 consultants, who pledge confidentiality, take about 10 calls a day, each of which averages two hours. Women learn of the center through word of mouth and radio advertisements.

Most of the women want information on getting a lawyer and legal advice about separating from their husbands, getting custody of children and dividing property. Others are seeking psychiatric help.

Similar centers exist in St. Petersburg and several other Russian cities.

Battered women can get solace and advice from hotlines but not much more. In all of Russia, not one shelter exists to care for women who have been beaten by their husbands.

Read Next Article