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Domestic abuse isn't a crime in Russia. One survivor says "the police don't help."

Domestic abuse in Russia amid pandemic
Domestic abuse in Russia amid pandemic 02:25

As the reports of domestic abuse soar around the world amid coronavirus lockdowns, frontline service providers say it's particularly hard for survivors in Russia — where domestic abuse isn't classified as a unique crime — to access help.

"If they [victims] contact the police and they do nothing, then we all know that abuse will get even more severe," said Marina Pisklakova-Parker, who founded the first domestic abuse helpline in Russia in 1993 and currently runs the human rights organization, the Anna Center.

Domestic abuse was partially decriminalized in Russia in 2017, meaning that if a husband hits a wife for the first time, and she doesn't need to be hospitalized, it's an administrative rather than a criminal offense. If a report is made and evidence is provided, the abuser will only face a fine of between about $70 and $300.

This has made it harder, especially under lockdowns, for victims to report abuse to the authorities without endangering themselves, Pisklakova-Parker said.

"This is not the help that women need. They need protection," Pisklakova-Parker said. "Official statistics will go down, but our statistics will go up, because at the moment it's on the shoulders of women's organizations."

"Look for a way out. Because the police don't help."

Before she was attacked by her husband in 2017, Margarita Gracheva called the police to report that he had threatened her with a knife, but the police didn't protect her, she told CBS News.

"I was beaten and my husband paid a 10,000-ruble [about $140] fine. He didn't pay it to me, but to the state," she said.

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Domestic violence survivor Margarita Gracheva is seen in front of a landscape in this photo posted to her Instagram profile. Margarita Gracheva

Then one night, Gracheva's husband dragged her into the woods near her house and chopped off both of her hands with an axe. She survived, and one of her hands — preserved in the winter snow — was saved. The other is now a robotic prosthetic.

"When women and girls ask me what they should do, unfortunately I can only tell them, 'Run away. Look for a way out.' Because the police don't help," she said.

Gracheva's husband was eventually sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony. She says that was due, in part, to the public attention her gruesome case received.

"Girls constantly write to me and send photos of their bruises, and, of course, during the pandemic, that has intensified, because everyone is stuck in the same space," she said.

"I am very scared of the moment when my husband walks out of prison, because there is no protection for me. When he cut off my hands, he said he would come to kill me. For me personally, that's terrifying. I am afraid that all this talk will end when I am dead, and then people will remember that something had to be done."

"Family is a small state"

Russia's interior ministry released statistics in April saying that rates of domestic abuse in the country during its coronavirus lockdown had decreased by 9%.

"The number of cases is going lower, because people, they feel a sort of solidarity with each other, and they're trying to support each other in these coronavirus times. That's why people are less aggressive in the families," Vitaly Milonov, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party told CBS News.

Milonov, who is against legislation specifically criminalizing domestic abuse, said that while extreme violence should be punished, what happens in the family should be private.

"Family is, as it's said in the Russian Orthodox tradition, is a small church. And family's a small state. And sometimes family, things that are happening in family, sometimes they are a little tragic. We should not interfere," Milonov said.

But Pisklakova-Parker said her organization saw a 30% spike in calls for help during Russia's lockdown, and that it expects an even greater increase as those restrictions are eased.

"It's mandatory to have a full legislation on domestic violence… We need early intervention and prevention of much more severe crimes, and that's what we are lacking," she said.

Gracheva told CBS News little has changed in the two and a half years since she was violently assaulted.

"I don't know how many more people have to suffer and die so that at least something will change," she said.

If you are a survivor or victim in the U.S. and it is an emergency, dial 911. Other resources include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or text LOVEIS to 22522. If it is an emergency in Russia, call the police at 112, or you can call the national domestic abuse hotline run by the Anna Center at +7-800-7000-600.

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