April 13-15, 1996
Prepared by Donna Axel
- Krisztina Morvai
- Isabel Marcus
- Nadine Taub
- Alexandra Rudneva
- Nadezhda Kuznetsova
- Reva Siegal
- Fran Olsen
- Lea Vander Velde
- Krisztina Morvai (Hungary)
- commenced with this image: "I can imagine a woman who has been beaten by her husband appearing before a panel. The people at this panel would represesent the different voices a woman hears throughout her life: One woman, telling her, "The family is your responsibility--if it breaks up, it is your fault." Another woman's voice telling her, "One day you will grow up and get married and your life will be complete." Prince Charming who beats her: "You've been waiting for me your entire life." A criminal judge telling the woman who finally killed her battering husband: "Why didn't you leave?" All of these voices placing the responsibility on the woman to try harder to make the family work.
- Alexandra Rudneva (Ukraine):
- "Domestic violence is a significant issue in Ukraine, but this issue has been hidden. The police and legal professionals have contributed to this problem. Legal reform is a little slower than in Russia and we are now in the process of creating all of our codes.
The main codes regarding domestic violence are the Criminal Code and Procedure. But there is no provision about domesic violence because, I've been told, "There is no realistic way to implement such a code or provision ... It is better for it to be within the Criminal Code." In order to be realistic, we must develop methods of implementation and practice with lawyers. Also, Ukraine has no crisis centers or hotlines.
We surveyed the public regarding issues of domestic violence, including women from very prestigious schools and from a variety of societal levels: workers and prisoners. These statistics will be published. We have presented questions in the form of surveys, asking, "What would you do if you were the victim of domestic violence?" They do not know.
Of the responses, 95% said that the issue was very typical in Ukraine, and 53% of kids said they would like to leave the house rather than be in this environment with violence between mother and father.
It is significant to know how women evaluate the psychological effects of assault, battery, and rape. We are also interested in understanding the difference between women and children, so we are questioning children from different schools.
We have also begun to develop a psychological training for legal professionals who are creating new laws on this subject. Rudneva relayed a real- life story to illustrate the current responses to victims of violence in the Ukrainian court system:
"Two years ago there was a national (cross) examination: Who is the object of rape? "I cannot speak in a loud voice," said the victim of rape. The judge said, "You can come here and whisper in my ear." After the woman spoke to the judge, the judge exclaimed in open court, "You are a bitch." This illustrates the level of mentality.
Women need a place at the police station and within the legal system where they will be respected. Thus far, the police response to women victims of domestic violence has been, "We have more important things to deal with. Go home." This is what we must change.
- Nadezhda Kuznetsova (Russia)
- emphasized that "Family is still considered an important part of our society. We organized a hot line in Moscow. It was the first time people began to talk about domestic violence in our country. Now this year we begin to discuss drafting a Domestic Violence Law."
The incidence of domestic violence has increased three times over the past year: 85% of women victimized by their husbands do not want to say that they have been victimized by their husbands; 90% do not want to go to the police. There is a Russian Proverb: "The person who beats me, means that he loves me."
Even though even a year and a half ago, legal scholars and professionals were not ready to discuss this problem, the new draft is a sign of the change in this mentality. Unfortunately, in drafting this law, there were not corresponding changes in the Criminal Code or the Family Code. For example, in the Domestic Violence Draft law, an article says people must be punished for domestic violence and refers you to articles in the criminal code which were not particularly relevant to domestic violence. There have been seven different drafts of this law over the past year. The biggest problem is that different people from different levels of society and backgrounds view this situation differently. For example, sociologists provided such a broad definition of "family": 46% of all couples live together but are not married, so it is very important to carefully define family to include these people, too. The committee in the Duma asked our organization to check this law.
Kuznetsova relayed a story to illustrate the need to involve police training in order to effect change: A child went to the police and said, "If you do not help me, I will leave home." Her group is working with police to go into the schools to tell children about domestic violence. The NEWW Legal Committee should focus on holding workshops for police. Police must be trained in how to handle situations of domestic violence. Law students also should be educated in this area, since they are the future lawyers. Judges in Russia have no understanding about international legislation, but nevertheless are interested in issues of domestic violence. But they do not have the opportunity to learn about domestic violence, even though they would like to learn.
Kuznetsova's group will present a draft of this law. However, just passing the law will not solve the problem of domestic violence.
- Reva Siegal (U.S.A.)
- spoke about the concept of delivering privileges to different groups in different ways. She said, "If there is something of social value at stake, then pointing it out will not change it. Resistance and protest cause change ... Protest by an organized women's movement changes the way the legal system distributes privileges differently to men and women. Generations of protest have caused old rules of social rules and hierarchy to change.
"The English-American rule called the Right of Chastisement permitted men to physically beat their wife. As this law was abandoned, the family changed as viewed by the law. The law began to speak of family relationship in a new way. Family privacy became beyond the law."
"Despite restraining orders, domestic violence is still prevalent. 28% to 30% of homicides of all women are committed by their husbands or intimate partners." Siegal concluded that women must be free of gender-motivated violence and the solution lies in protest, women's organizations' activities, and the national government taking a stance and creating laws.
- Fran Olsen (U.S.A.)
- asked, "What is the importance of domestic violence in our agenda? Should we oppose the practice of another culture or religion?" She responded, "The mistake that we westerners make is not in failing to observe another culture but that we put so much attention on it. We must allow the women from that country to prioritize the issue."
Olsen pointed out that a woman's violence against her husband is more severely penalized. It is never considered a private matter, for example, when a woman finally shoots her batterer.
Olsen asked, "Are we [women] just caretakers, picking up the pieces of other wounded women? Are we census takers trying to shame governments into changing society? Are we trying to eliminate domestic violence or are we attempting to empower women so that no women will continue to stay with abusive men?"
"We have to get to the cause of violence against women and stop it there ... If violence against women were seen as bizarre and not sexy, fewer men would engage in it."
In conclusion, Olsen asked, "Will equality in the home contribute to men ceasing to be violent? or will men respond to women's increasing independence with yet more violence?" She asked us to "look to the future -- a future of cooperation among women."
- Lea Vander Velde (U.S.A.)
- began with a narrative that she contrasted to Fran Olsen's presentation, "If Fran's presentation could be entitled, 'Beware of Domestic Violence being Sexy,' my story is, 'The Danger of Domestic Violence Being Funny, or Situationalized and Comedic.'"
She had returned from a conference in Toronto, Canada on the subject of, "Master-Servant Law in the Colonized Nations." One of the constant themes was imprisoning people for not working and flogging. Mary Taylor from London (one of the few women at the conference) pointed out that every time the term "flogging" was used, there was some laughter and uneasiness and that this term took on some sexual connotations. She noted that flogging was brutal, and that by discussing it in a intellectual way "we were alienating ourselves from it, we were sanitizing or deodorizing it."
Velde brings to our attention the master's brutality toward the servant and our ability to alienate ourselves from such brutality so that we may compare the role of husband/batterer to wife/"victim." Velde admonished us to not permit the prevalence of domestic violence to become something at which we giggle uneasily, or alienate ourselves from through sanitization. Instead, we must recognize that flogging became denormalized because it was "easy to encourage other types of punishment -- less costly to the master ... Coercion based on the wage relation encouraged work...they moved from chastisement to the rule of love/loyalty."
Velde concluded with a story from the U.S. situation comedy television show, "Cybill." In one episode, Cybill comes across a group of Russian emigres. Her daughter and daughter's husband are having some marital dispute, so Cybill joins the Russian emigres' party. She asks this group of emigres what she should do to solve her daughter and daughter's husband's domestic problem. One Russian emigree advises, 'This is what we do,' and the emigree slaps her husband, then he slaps her, then they kiss quite passionately, and she swoons. Cybill asks, 'How did you learn to resolve your disputes like this, by slapping each other and then having sex?' The woman emigree responded, 'My mother-in-law taught me one day.' Cybill asks, 'But how did she teach you that?' and the emigree responds, 'By taking a gun and threatening us with what she would do if we broke up.' Cybill in conclusion asks, 'Where do you think I can get a gun at this hour?'"
- Nadine Taub (U.S.A.)
- provided four ideas when considering the role of law in improving women's situation since there is consensus that the law has a role in making social change.
- Is isolating the particular area beneficial? "Women do not have options because they do not make a different living and a whole host of other reasons. We must consider and deal with all the reasons."
- Is using the law or trying to arrive at legal remedies the best solution (for example, is using resources for creating shelters for women the best use of these resources)? or is it better to make it easier for women to leave? or should we focus energy on creating a legal remedy that forces the man to leave?
- Are we finding a way to empower women or are we giving more power to the state? Does the woman control the case if she brings suit, or does the state? Can a woman be forced to testify? Are cops forced to arrest someone at the site of domestic violence?
- Are there ways of making the laws work? or are we just creating ways to cover up the same problem?
Comments and Questions
- Isabel Marcus:
- Through her work with men who have been convicted of domestic violence, power and control and the sense of entitlement is a common theme among men who commit domestic violence.
- Melissa Stone:
- Many of our sisters from the region have had laws that protect women from domestic violence and we are here to find out how these rules have either worked or not worked for them. Let us also look to how men benefit from physically abusing women. We must consider how to shift these benefits, so that there are more negatives.
- Isabel Marcus:
- When asked, battering men first say they felt guilty, but when pressed, they then admit that they enjoyed beating their wives.
- Joan Williams
- asked the panel to comment on the relationship between domestic violence and men's feeling of entitlement to beat up their wives, and also on the role of economics in the abuse.
- Alexandra Rudneva:
- It is more psychological than economic. There are no cases brought to the court. At most, men would be reprimanded: 'You were bad.' So women have nowhere to turn for help.
- General Question:
- How do we address the root causes of domestic violence? We need to look at the power inequities.
- Anastasia Posadskaya:
- There is a strong connection between economic powers and the increase or decrease of domestic violence against women. Posadskaya brings to our attention the article, "Phenomenon of the bird in the golden cage," which is about women who are 100% dependent on a man. The man is very rich and the woman is a toy for the man.
"Economics plays an important role in how women can address the problem of domestic violence. For example, during previous times, the Moral Code of Communism hung on everyone's wall. Even if we had a good law against domestic violence, it was not effective. The new law provides for the state to provide shelters. But I fear that it will not have equal access to state's resources. The women's part of the NGO sector is actively trying to push for gaining state funds, including for shelters. A St. Petersburg Center is preparing to be opened. One woman convinced the mayor to provide space for a shelter. The problem is that if they give money they want to control everything, who works there and how."
- Shana Penn
- reminds us of the housing shortages and that even when couples divorce, they often must stay together in the same flat.
- Question to Nadezhda Kuznetsova regarding the definition of family and its relationship to lesbian issues.
- Nadezhda Kuznetsova:
- "The law about violence at home is supposed to be about violence at home and not about families. It is important to talk about this issue from a human point of view, not from a legal point of view. From the man's perspective, they have power that they can use. and from the women's point of view, they are like the slave."
- Reva Siegal:
- "The law has contributed to enabling men, so changing the laws will benefit women over time...The laws play a central role in the general set of social norms we are protesting, but it would be futile to rely solely on these laws to improve our situation."
- One final point credited the way Alexandra Rudneva received funding for "victims of crime" by not separating men out, even though 60% to 70% of women received the benefits of her services.
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