Violence Against Women in Former Soviet Countries

Reader el asked me on numerous occasions to write about domestic violence in FSU countries and the US. This is a painful topic for me to write about but I can’t refuse a request from such a dedicated reader. Besides, I think that it is important to educate people on what the situation in this area is in other countries.

Countries of the former Soviet Union have a tragic legacy of genocides, oppression, suffering, and fear. This daily terror people experienced for generations doesn’t simply evaporate. The impotence we all feel in the face of our repressive authorities makes us lash out with violence against each other.

I witnessed scenes back in Ukraine where somebody would accidentally push a person on a bus or bump into a pedestrian in the street and, instead of saying “Sorry” and moving on, people would jump at each other and start beating the offender.

Violence against women is really terrifying in our countries. At least every other woman has been a victim of rape. Every single woman (statistically) has been assaulted. When I was 15, I was walking home from school in broad daylight. A much older man asked me for my phone number, and I refused politely. He grabbed me by the hair, dragged me for several feet, pushed me into the mud, and started beating me with his feet.

A crowd of people, consisting mostly of older women, gathered. They did nothing to interfere and expressed their complete approval for the man who “gave the little bitch [namely, a child in a school uniform] what she deserved.”

When the attacker was done with me and left, nobody helped me to get up. The crowd of (predominantly female) observers stood there and giggled. I didn’t really even discuss this with anybody at that time because it was just something that happened to you, a normal daily reality.

I can’t tell you how many times I was groped, poked, grabbed, had people stick their hands between my legs, saw people expose themselves to me when I was a child, a teenager, a young woman in my country. This happened on the bus, in the subway, on the street, everywhere. This happened all the time. This is how every woman lived. And, in all probability, still does in our countries. I was very lucky in that I was never raped or harmed in any serious way, at least.

Of course, this kind of violence spills onto children. Little kids are beaten and abused by both men and women. Then, the kids grow up and become abusers in turn. I know both adult women and adult men who were victims of domestic violence for decades. And they all started out as children in abusive households.

Violence and abuse exist in North America, too. I’m sure that many of the people who are reading this post know this first-hand. Men, women, children, older people, disabled people – anybody can be a victim of abuse. However, this daily, daunting, wearing violence that you don’t even notice any more because it happens everywhere, all the time is not something that you encounter here the way you do in our countries.

15 thoughts on “Violence Against Women in Former Soviet Countries

  1. <i where somebody would accidentally push a person on a bus…
    When I was 15…
    groped, poked, grabbed, had people stick their hands between my legs, saw people expose themselves to me

    May I ask the city’s name?

    I had been extremely lucky not to experience this in the small coal miners’ town, where we lived. Drunk, scary men and horribly degraded from alcohol woman? Yes. But this? No. Guess it’s the combination of leaving in my early teens and staying at home most of the time there, only walking to school (close to our flat), often with my mother who worked there, and back.

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    1. I don’t think this was the problem of our city specifically. This was in Kharkov but I have no doubt this was the same everywhere.

      “Guess it’s the combination of leaving in my early teens and staying at home most of the time there, only walking to school (close to our flat), often with my mother who worked there, and back.”

      -It’s very sad that one has to lock oneself up at home or be chaperoned constantly to avoid things like that.

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  2. This is absolutely shocking, but I cannot pretend any of this is new to me. I’ve twice had men jerk off against me and the girl next to me in crowded local trains. I only took small, vicious comfort in that he now had to walk around in damp trousers. After the first time this happened, I was narrating the story to my friends when my friend’s brother, cousin and a few of our friends showed up and nearly burst the sides laughing. “This is just so fucking funny!”, they said. “My god, just imagine you, standing there like a statue, lips pursed like a prissy Victorian puritan, and someone actually jerking off against you”.

    Before leaving, her cousin advised us to “loosen up a bit” and not take everything “so seriously”. I’m not sure if he meant someone was using my body to orgasm in public because he imagined I was a prude, or whether he meant I shouldn’t be this irritated by the incident (like you at 15, I was irritated and disgusted, but not furious. I kind of expected this sort of thing to happen to me by then).

    On a completely different note, can you get and watch this film? I’d love to hear what you have to say about it: http://www.lovetranslatedonfilm.com/

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  3. “A crowd of people, consisting mostly of older women, gathered. They did nothing to interfere and expressed their complete approval for the man who “gave the little bitch [namely, a child in a school uniform] what she deserved.””

    How terrifying, and how awful that the women didn’t help you.

    I reread “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” this summer and one of its themes was the cruelties the poor, frustrated immigrants inflicted on one another, starting from young childhood. At one point, when she was about ten, the young narrator witnessed a disturbing scene; a young unwed mother in the next building, tired of hiding indoors in shame and enduring the taunts of the neighborhood women, decided to rebel. She dressed herself and her baby and proudly walked down the sidewalk with the baby in its carriage. The older women couldn’t tolerate this but she wouldn’t back down. Finally, one picked up a rock and through it at her and the others joined in, not stopping until a rock took a piece out of the baby’s forehead and the girl grabbed the baby and ran upstairs crying and defeated. The young girl narrator, who had watched all this in silence, couldn’t understand why women would do this to another women, why women couldn’t support each other. She grew up to distrust women.

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    1. Thank you for the support, Isabel. The fact that all these on-lookers did nothing to help was more disturbing to me than what the criminal did. He felt free to do what he wanted because he knew that nobody would stop him.

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    2. Btw, if you haven’t read it, Clarissa, I highly recommend “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, which is the best, most realistic female coming of age novel I’ve read.

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  4. A comment from “Как правильно бить женщин”

    “Бей бабу молотом – будет баба золотом”
    “Бьёт значит любит”
    “Мужу, что жену бьет, Бог подает”
    “Жинка небита, як хата невкрита”
    “Кого люблю, того и бью. Жену не бить – и милу не быть.”
    “Бей жену к обеду, а к ужину опять, без боя за стол не сядь.”
    “Чем больше жену бьешь, тем щи вкуснее (тем наварней щи).”
    “Жена не горшок, не расшибешь, а расшибешь – берестой не перевьешь.”
    “Бей жену обухом, припади да понюхай: дышит да морочит, еще хочет.”
    “Люби жену, как душу, тряси ее, как грушу!”
    “Кто вина не пьет, пьян не живет; кто жены не бьет – мил не живет.”
    “Всем бита, и об печь бита, только печью не бита.”
    “Шубу бей – теплее, жену бей – милее.”

    It gave me idea of a new blog post topic. Why there are so many proverbs in favor of (domestic, but it spills everywhere imo) violence in Russian? Are there such proverbs in English too? The idea is comparison between US & FSU and if there are differences, why? Is it all because of the history of Russian peasants’ serfdom vs white independent American conquerors?

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    1. The idea is comparison between US & FSU and if there are differences, why?

      I mean how society treats violence, not only domestic. F.e. zero-violence approach in USA schools (which from what I read often leads to expulsion of the abused party too), etc.

      Or may be it’s a bad idea since you’ve written about the topic in this & other posts.

      If you search for new posts’ ideas what about your views on USA’s War on Drugs? Should some “soft” drugs become legal? What should the punishments be? People often blog about the topic (high level of black men in jail, etc) on feminist blogs, but I don’t remember you ever blogging about it.

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