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Last Updated: Monday, 26 November 2007, 17:16 GMT
Domestic violence: Russian women speak out

Russian pop star Valeria
Pop star Valeria wrote a book about her own experiences

One Russian woman dies at the hands of her husband or partner every hour, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

Last year there were more than 15,000 criminal cases in Russia against men accused of violent crimes against their wives. Campaigners say this is the tip of the iceberg. Violence is considered "normal", so few women report it and even fewer cases make it to court.

A few years ago the pop star Valeria made headlines when she wrote a personal account of domestic violence and took part in an international campaign against it.

The BBC's Russian service has been speaking to some women who have survived domestic violence. For their own security, their names have been changed and photographs taken in a way that does not identify them.

Click here for the BBC Russian Service's domestic violence reports

IRINA

"Irina", Russian domestic violence survivor
"I believed it was normal to be beaten up."

My husband would come home from work, often a little drunk. And he would hit me if something was wrong, like I forgot to take the garbage out or the soup for dinner was not warm enough.

First he would just give me a blow on the head, not too hard. But gradually he got into the habit of hitting me harder and harder.

Why didn't I leave? First of all, because my husband and all our friends and relatives kept telling me: how will you survive alone with three small children? You will never be able to remarry. And also because everyone around me told me that it was completely normal. And with time I started to believe that it was normal to be beaten up and humiliated.

I woke up in hospital with small tubes sticking out of my stomach and drips in my veins.

I was like a fish in a tank: all alone. You open your mouth, try to say something, but nobody hears you. Everyone was just waving me off: this is nothing, it's your family business.

The last time he beat me up I woke up in hospital, with small tubes sticking out of my stomach and drips in my veins. I was told that I was in hospital and I had just been operated on. My first thought was: but how did I end up here? Oh, but I ended up here because I was beaten up by my husband. And why did he beat me up? Oh, because I was foolish enough to let him do it.

I managed to recover after all this violence. But it's better not to let things come to this. We should stand up to them. If a man hits a woman once and she doesn't leave him straight away, he will feel encouraged to hit her again, as nobody punished him for hurting another person.

LYUDMILA

"Lyudmila", Russian domestic violence survivor
"They appealed to me as fellow police; they wouldn't get a bonus."

After my husband beat me up really badly, I was in hospital for about a month. And all this time the police officer, the investigator and my ex-husband kept telling me that I shouldn't start criminal proceedings and that I shouldn't tell anyone about what happened.

The police hoped that I would withdraw my report. When they found out that I worked for the police myself, they started appealing to me as a fellow police employee. They said it was a waste of time for them to investigate a domestic violence case, that they wouldn't get any bonuses for this.

It was pity of the kind which said 'poor little thing, she doesn't know how to handle men'.

Most people around me disapproved of me. They said this was a family matter and it shouldn't be made public. If I failed to find common ground with my husband, it was my problem. If he hit me, I was myself to blame. Had I found the right words, he would never have hit me, they said. Some felt pity for me, but it was pity of the kind which went "poor little thing, she just doesn't know how to handle men".

The legislation concerning domestic violence needs to change. The state should start supporting women in such situations. There are already crisis centres that support women, but they can do very little until the law changes.

MASHA

"Masha", Russian domestic violence survivor
Masha was raped like a "chunk of meat" in front of her children

It started out as a nice marriage. We had two children. Then my husband started to change, as he was getting more money and more power. And I was just a housewife, at home with the children and pots and pans.

We started to have scenes. Then he started hitting me. I kept it to myself, I didn't want to tell anyone. I tried to drown my grief in alcohol. Then he stopped seeing me as human.

Once he raped me in a perverted fashion in front of the children. He beat me first and then he raped the "hunk of meat" that he considered me to be.

I am happy with my life now but there are no guarantees I won't end up on the streets again.

After this I broke up with him and started binge-drinking. He set the police against me and eventually they came and took me away. When the police let me go I came back to a locked door of the flat I shared with my husband. I was without my things, without documents, without any money.

I was homeless on the streets of St Petersburg for several years. Eventually I got really ill and doctors referred me to a crisis centre for women. They helped me get new documents and find a job where I can live in a dormitory room.

I tried to get in touch with my children, I sent them presents and tried to inquire through friends, but at the moment they don't want to see me. I'm happy with my life now: just to have a roof over my head, even if it is only a small dormitory room. There are no guarantees, of course, that I won't end up on the streets again. And this is what frightens me. I don't think I will survive this a second time.


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