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Jewish Women Combat Domestic Violence In Russia

(Washington, DC--January 26, 2001) Jewish women in Russia are leading the effort to force both Russian society and government to confront the growing problem of domestic violence against women in that country.

Speaking to an RFE/RL briefing this week, Rita Drozdinskaya, the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Center in Voronezh and her colleagues from NCSJ and Jewish Women International described both the scope of the problem and the progress they have made with their programs in Voronezh and Tula.

They noted that in 1997, the most recent year for which data are available, more than 14,000 women in Russia were killed as a result of domestic violence, more than ten times as many deaths from that cause as in the United States, which has almost twice as large a population. But they said that the absence of statistics in Russia about domestic violence short of murder makes it extremely difficult to say just how widespread the problem is.

Drozdinskaya said that many Russians remain in denial about the existence let alone the scope of the problem, but she said that the Voronezh project has begun to change attitudes concerning domestic violence. The local Communist mayor was recently defeated, in part, for his insensitivity to the issue. The Voronezh project founded a crisis center, but lacks the funding for a women's shelter. Progress in Tula has been easier, she said, because there the local media has routinely carried articles about violence against women.

Lesley Weiss of NCSJ, who spoke alongside Drozdinskaya, pointed out that up to now, there is no legal basis in Russia for prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence, although some police officials in Voronezh have suggested using existing assault laws. She noted that a draft bill on the subject never was considered for a vote in the last Duma. Moreover, she added, local police lack financial and human resources to devote any time to the problem, until it ends tragically in murder.

Drozdinskaya and seven of her colleagues currently are in the United States to receive training on how to deal with this crisis. Their American sponsors hope that the models and programs they see in the United States will help Russia's women create and build their own effective programs.