December 5, 2008

Bleak situation for women in Russia

A report on NPR this morning discussed the dangerous scenario that many Russian women face today: human trafficking, forced prostitution, sever beatings at the hands of their captors and husbands.  As indicated in the report by Anne Garrels, “According to government estimates, one Russian woman dies at the hands of her husband or partner every hour, but police don’t respond.” And, in reliably crude fashion, women are blamed and experience secondary trauma or revictimization in the criminal justice system.  The recent film, “Eastern Promises,” examines the global sex trade and it’s ramifications.  Jarring and disturbing.


Russia has become a prime source, transit point and destination for trafficking in women — what the U.N. defines as abuse of women involving force, fraud, coercion and deception.

While numbers are impossible to pinpoint, a new survey suggests at least 90,000 women currently living in Russia have been the victims of trafficking. But the Russian government has done little to deal with the issue.

The Russian city of Chelyabinsk is just the kind of place traffickers look for women — on the edge of Siberia. It’s remote, relatively poor, and the women have white skin, which is prized in Asia and the Middle East. So far, given the lack of government action, traffickers have been able to operate there with impunity…

…There is no government assistance for the victims — the very young women the Russian government needs if its goal to improve the birth rate can be achieved. This reflects a bigger problem — there is a lack of help for all abused Russian women. According to government estimates, one Russian woman dies at the hands of her husband or partner every hour, but police don’t respond.

Under pressure from women activists in Chelyabinsk, the local government has finally set up a crisis center to deal with domestic abuse. It wasn’t easy, and the center is understaffed. It can’t offer 24-hour service, there’s no shelter, and psychologist Inna Martynov says police are more often a hindrance than a help.

“Police blame the women,” Martynov says. “I just had a case where the police made it worse, and I had to deal with secondary trauma as a result. We have not been able to build good links with the police.”

She fears that with the growing economic crisis in Russia, women will be increasingly at risk, more may be tempted to take potentially dangerous jobs abroad and more may be victims at home. She also worries the fledgling crisis center, already overwhelmed, will be cut back.

To listen, click here.

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