COE 1999 : SEMINAR Men and Violence

Socio-economic roots for cases of male violence against women in Russia

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org 

 

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European Council of Europen - Human Rights

Section Equality between women and men

Seminar : Men and Violence Against Women

Strasbourg, 8 October 1999 - Palais de l'Europe - France

 

Socio-economic roots for cases of male violence

against women in Russia

 

Vera Gracheva (Russian Federation)

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is an honour and a privilege for me to be invited to this Council of Europe seminar and to present an intervention on this burning issue of male violence.

 

I am not a newcomer to such fora after having been a participant of several conferences and workshops organised by the Council of Europe and other international organisations. Being abroad, nearly every time I have felt a kind of disappointment due to the tremendous gap between the level of advanced measures proposed to combat violence (for instance, a wider usage of internet facilities for the education of women in the sphere of equality) and an almost zero option for women in Russia to use such measures.

 

Not taking into consideration the high level of Russian experts, the complete ignorance regarding gender issues - both terminology and philosophy - is spread not only in far-flung areas but also in the capital of Russia.

 

My guess was that the participants of those fora might have certain illusions concerning the scale of problems we are facing in Russia. In my country, we do appreciate the sincere desire of the Council of Europe to co-operate with the state bodies and non-governmental institutions, to achieve better understanding, to help us to reach European standards in dealing with this acute problem. But if we want to achieve results, we have to speak a common language. My intervention stressing the cohesion between the socio-economic situation and the high level of hostility and male aggressiveness might help our co-operation to proceed in the right direction.

 

First of all, violence is determined by our experts as a deep-rooted social phenomenon which is reflected in different forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economic; in the form of cruel behaviour towards children; in the form of forcing women and girls to use alcohol, drugs, to earn money by prostitution and other criminal activities. This social phenomenon occurs in every fourth Russian family.

 

On the other hand, violence itself as a criminal act is provoked by society and living conditions.

 

Criminal statistics in Russia show negative social turbulence starting from the beginning of the 20th century. This becomes more than vivid in the 90s. It would not be a mistake to say that perestroika and the economic reform of our society opened a Pandora's box of social conflict.

 

The stagnating Russian society still desperately needs to be reformed. But the method chosen proved to be absolutely destructive. From the very beginning, the process was dominated by criminal and shadow-economy interest and lacked the legal protection of new co-operative forms of economic development. The State suddenly gave up governing the economy and industry, rejected the state monopoly on foreign trade and on production of alcohol and appeared helpless in front of criminal privatisation.

 

The results were dramatic. In 1992, the number of people whose income had fallen lower than the estimated living minimum reached 50 million (more than one third of the population). For 80% of the population, income was cut to 25-40%. The gap between the incomes of the poorest 10% and the richest 10% increased from 11 to 50 times in 1997. Seventeen percent of the active population became jobless (12% registered, plus 5% in certain hidden forms). At the same time, social welfare payments for the jobless became so small that they lost their meaning for the victims of the crisis.

 

Since 1992, the level of consumer activity has dropped to the level of the late 60s. Thirty to forty percent of the population found themselves below the verge of poverty. It is hard to believe, but the minimum salary became equal to only 15% of the estimated "survival minimum". More than 14 million Russians had a salary which could not provide their own living, to say nothing of that of their family members.

 

The side effect of speedy economic reform led to an absolute and relative poverty for millions of people, sharp differentiation of the population in terms of incomes, deepening social conflict, criminalisation of society, growth of "drunken crimes", etc. Loss of jobs, part-time occupation and irregularity in payment of salaries resulted in the creation of a strongly hostile social climate.

 

A small but vivid example of deep psychological stress: the number of murders committed in a state of affect increased by 10 times within 3 years. The total number of criminal acts doubled. Needless to say, after a short and relatively stable period, the well-known crisis of 1998 again left 40 million people below the level of survival. The average income became two times lower than in the 80s. More than one million employees lost their jobs. Four million became part-time employed. Psychologists know well enough that a jobless person, if he or she does not regain occupation and continues to stay in that forced situation, is endangered by a process of mental and psychiatric degradation - even if his or her financial resources permit a satisfactory standard of living.

 

Society was facing the direct aftermath of the crisis: the considerable increase of alcohol addiction, violence in different forms, depression, negligence, frustration. Alcohol addiction became widely spread among women who felt that they were victims of "feminisation of poverty" (among those who lost jobs due to the crisis, women "gained" 80%, leaving 20% to men). A lot of them shared the fate of male marginals - homeless, jobless, begging money in the streets and subways.

 

Some experts qualified the moral situation in society as a pandemia of spiritual intoxication which resulted in a distorted attitude towards women, the growth of cynicism in interrelations between sexes, orientation towards violence as a means of conflict resolution.

 

Alcohol addiction can be estimated as one of the most harmful social problems stimulating crimes of different kinds. We have figures saying that the criminal activity of drunkards is 100 times higher than of those who do not use alcoholic drinks regularly. Storming uncontrolled growth of alcohol production resulted in increasing numbers of women being killed by their male relatives in the course of domestic quarrels and conflicts. Such murders keep the leading position on the list of grave non-sexual violent acts against the life and health of women (20% of all killings). All are committed by husbands or intimate "friends" under the influence of alcohol. Fifty-eight percent of victims were drunk themselves. Eighty percent of all those who were killed by men drank alcohol just before the tragedy occurred. In each second case, the conflict regarding drinks appeared to be the only motive for the murder. Seventy-five percent of rapes were also committed by men in a state of alcoholic intoxication.

 

The burden of the problem of families of drunkards is so hard that it causes another type of crime - killings of "home debauchers" by their relatives (the proportion is the following: every fourth killer gets killed himself by sons or brothers of the victim. Sometimes women commit such crimes, seeing no alternative).

 

Such a situation is an example of criminal self-regulation of a social body, a society itself, when criminal behaviour within a small social group of the population is stopped by another criminal act.

 

Another type of violence against women, the increasing number of rape cases (50,000 per year), also has its roots in the escalation of social conflict. Seventy-seven percent of rapes are committed by men having no definite source of income (jobless, migrant, etc). Many of them have psychiatric problems or different sexual disorders.

 

It is impossible to give exact numbers of cases of rape or other acts of violence against women due to the reluctance of victims to start any legal proceedings. For instance, in

St Petersburg, out of 785 women who asked for assistance from the city's Centre for victims of sexual violence, only 37 registered their cases with the police (the picture is the same regarding cases of slight body injuries - the number of cases reported to the police does not reflect the reality, being 13-16 times less than the actual number).

 

Speaking about the social roots of violence in Russia, we have to take into account the tragic aftermath of Afghanistan and Chechnya - not only as a side-effect of violence in its extreme form leaving its trace in minds and souls of all the combatants. An outstanding hypothesis was suggested by Russian psychiatrists and biologists. It demonstrated changes which occur on a molecular and genetic code level if a combatant or a civilian has been wounded or received a sudden trauma in the course of armed clashes. These changes, as they claim, cause addiction to violence which is seen in the behaviour of children in the families of former soldiers and officers. The research of Russian scientists was founded on a huge database which had been initiated by unusually numerous requests from parents (former wounded combatants and civilians) complaining about the aggressive behaviour of their children. The results of this research, if proved by further investigation, may explain the nature of male violence over many generations.

 

Domestic violence creates a vicious circle leaving its evil impact on teenagers and minors - actually future husbands and parents themselves. Domestic violence reproduces itself in geometric progression kicking children out of family life into the street or state institutions which cannot provide them with decent care and attention. 160,000 children are being brought up in such institutions - orphanages, children's homes, etc. Ninety percent of them do have parents who either ignore their parental obligations or are deprived of their rights by court decisions (or kept under arrest). Still, the number of cruel acts towards children is increasing. Seventy percent of all children's traumas are caused in the family. Violence against children occurs in every fourth family.

 

Every year, 30,000 minors and teenagers seek refuge in the street from cruelty in their families, 6,000 run away from state institutions and 2,000 commit suicide. 27,000 become victims of various criminal acts, including sexual ones. From childhood, they get involved in alcohol addiction, drugs, robbery, begging, prostitution (12-15% of prostitutes are under 16 years of age). There can be no illusions regarding their future style of family relations.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

There should be no doubt: our intention to give a true picture of the socio-economic situation and roots of violence has nothing in common with feelings of sorrow for the former regime and the former economic system. But we have to admit that the speedy reform of society in Russia has destroyed social guarantees which permitted those with the lowest incomes, the elderly and disabled, orphans and women to survive. These guarantees have not been replaced by other effective measures.

 

A short analysis of the situation having its direct impact and actually causing domestic violence just demonstrates the scale of the problems we have to solve, including legal protection, restructuring of the budget that has to be socially oriented, creating a net of crisis centres for women and children, combining the efforts of physicians, teachers, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, economists and many others dealing every day with the problem of male violence.

 

It is absolutely clear that, even taking into account the European experience of combating domestic violence, we will not achieve much until we combat socio-economic roots of hostility and aggressiveness in our own society, until we make the personal interests of each member of our society a priority for the state and authorities of every level, until we find a golden connection between human rights - a philosophy and practice - and socio-economic reform of our country.

 

 

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