Keeping families safe
12-Feb-2017


This week Russia and Ireland debated the criminalization of domestic violence in their respective legislation. Each country proposed laws that will have profound affects on both women and children who are experiencing family abuse. However, the laws could not have more different premises and conclusions. They highlight the fact that progress in gender equality is precarious and reflective at times (so it seems) on values that have little to do with protecting the health and safety of actual women. 

After much objection from women’s advocates, Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed off on a new law in which violence that results in “minor harm” (such as bruises) will be considered a misdemeanor. The previous law punished similar offenses with imprisonment of up to two years; now, a fine of up to $500, community service or up to 15 days imprisonment will punish violators. According to politicians, the reasoning behind the bill is to prevent lengthy prison sentences for parents who discipline their children. They also argue that the bill defends traditional family values and that Russian parents should have the right to hit their children.

Meanwhile, Ireland is reviewing Domestic Violence Bill 2017, which contains several new measures aimed at assisting survivors of abuse. Whether they are married, unmarried but living together or living separately, survivors will be able to get a safety order from the courts. The bill will also allow for survivors to give evidence in court through television link and be accompanied in certain proceedings.  

The differences between the two bills are clear: the latter aims to protect women, while the former doesn’t. The Irish bill shows that progress is willing to be made to protect families, even though Ireland also has conservative family values. In Russia, the deterioration of domestic violence legislation is concerning as it shows that Russian society is willing to take a step backward. Furthermore, it is concerning because it is subjective: what is considered “minor violence?” How does the law address non-violent abuse? Most important to note is that domestic violence often starts out with small acts of abuse such as slapping that evolve with time into more serious offenses.

Why is it so difficult to protect women and children? Laws are meant to protect all members of society from harm: keeping families safe should be lawmakers’ ultimate priority. Survivors of abuse—women, children, even men—need to know that the law will protect them. They need to have easy access to the protection they need to move on from their situations and live healthy, happy lives.


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