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Did 14,000 Women Die from Domestic Violence in Russia Last Year?

Violence against women is hardly a new story to me. For years, I’ve reported in countries across the Middle East and Asia, where women face deep-seated oppression and a lack of basic rights, including the right to pursue justice against domestic violence.

But this was different. Russia’s numbers stopped me in my tracks.

About 14,000 women a year are being murdered in domestic violence in Russia, according to its own interior ministry. Some organizations like the UN and Human Rights Watch have estimated lower figures — 12,000 murders. But it could be a lot higher than 14,000, some advocates say. Women typically underreport domestic violence, and police are known to downgrade the crime.

In rural areas, honor killings are often masked as suicides.

Whether it’s 12,000 or 14,000 or higher—it’s a pandemic worth pausing to think about. That’s dozens of women murdered each day. Russian’s violence against women dwarfs levels of violence against women in the US, which has twice the population as Russia. Russia’s numbers are anywhere between 20 and 40 times higher than in countries like Turkey and across Europe.

Here’s the first problem: The very fact that journalists and activists can’t get specific numbers for domestic violence speaks volumes. It’s the type of crime that male-dominated governments and law enforcement agencies don’t like to acknowledge. In most of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and across Africa, it’s almost impossible to get accurate data on domestic violence deaths. In Saudi Arabia, domestic violence wasn’t even recognized as a crime until 2013.

By way of example, take Turkey, where I reported on domestic violence for a year. Numbers there have fluctuated so wildly it’s suspicious: The government said 66 women were murdered in domestic violence in 2002; that figure rose to 953 in 2009; and then dropped to about 300 last year — a fluctuation that has never been explained and that raises many suspicions about how seriously the government takes the crime. Currently, a network of Turkish activists keeps count, based on newspaper headlines and moles inside police departments.

Even if you take Russia’s lowest number of about 12,000 women killed each year, it’s still an astounding toll and on par with major global pandemics that receive much more attention and international response. And yet, there is zero global response to violence against Russian women.

Let’s consider that in 2014, at the height of the Ebola epidemic in which a total of 11,000 people died, organizations from around the world responded. The World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting with health ministers from 11 countries. Doctors Without Borders parachuted in. The UN Security Council declared Ebola a “threat to international peace and security” and at the minimum, $1 billion was predicted to be spent on prevention. When it was mostly over, Time magazine chose Ebola fighters as their “person of the year.”

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*This post is part of a series produced in partnership between the Ms. Blog, the Fuller Project for International Reporting and PRI’s Across Women’s Lives.

[Photo Credit: Kate Brady/Creative Commons]
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