Earlier this year (2017), Russia’s parliament overwhelmingly voted 385/387 to decriminalize domestic violence first offenses. Much has been written by the media and advocates of domestic violence prosecution decrying Russia’s move. Feminists claim that Russia’s new law is tantamount to encouraging wife beaters.
Far from it, this law was backed by the majority of women and family rights groups in Russia. The law merely puts domestic violence on par with battery and assault laws. The new law sensibly mandates counseling, fines and up to 15 days of detention for first time abusers. Second time abusers can face stiffer penalties, including jail time. The mainstream media fails to focus on these facts.
It is serious time to revisit the domestic violence laws in the U.S., UK, Australia and other democratic countries. Russia’s move is a good one because domestic violence criminal prosecution is leading to the destruction of families, putting millions of men (and some women) behind bars, causing unemployment and failing to treat the root cause of interpersonal violence (IPV). It is no surprise that increased criminal prosecution of domestic violence laws are directly proportional to divorce and the declining marriage rate in democratic countries.
Advocates of domestic violence criminal prosecution will tell you that it is necessary to have strong criminal prosecution to deter abuse and punish offenders. However, there is no data to show that criminal prosecution of domestic violence has done anything to stop abuse. Instead, “no tolerance” and “no drop” policies have forced law enforcement to respond to any domestic disturbance, no matter how small or serious and make a mandatory arrest.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of domestic violence criminal prosecutions are not those that are stopping serious abuse in households. In fact, as a result of criminal prosecution, many spouses in abusive relationships do not call the police from fear that their husbands or loved ones will be jailed, thus losing the primary breadwinner in the family and causing economic and social ruin to the family.
Domestic violence treatment should include sensible social programs to address substance abuse, anger and emotional difficulties, which are at the root of most IPV; not prison sentences and permanent criminal records, which will inevitably lead to long term unemployment, depression and substance abuse.
Russia’s policy is a sensible one. If there are IPV problems in a relationship, treatment and counseling should be the focus. Mandatory arrest policies do nothing to stop abuse. In fact, the arrested party just becomes more angry and is likely to exact some sort of revenge if they are imprisoned for a domestic dispute, especially when both parties engaged in physical fighting. Moreover, it is too complicated for an arresting officer to determine the “primary aggressor” to make a lawful arrest when arriving at the scene of emotionally driven domestic disputes. More often, the Man is arrested and prosecuted even when his female counterpart initiated the violence. The difference between “victim” and “defendant” is a very slippery slope and one that can lead to dire consequences for the arrested party. In the vast majority of cases, it is Men who suffer from the asymmetric policies and enforcement of domestic violence laws.
Another disturbing outcome of criminal prosecution between family members is that it rips families, relationships and households apart. Because in most states police are required to make an arrest; slaps, pushes, shoves or throwing of objects in a domestic dispute leads to mandatory arrests, followed by lengthy and expensive court proceedings. Meanwhile, couples are forced to live apart, the household is no longer available to both parties, children may become the custody of the state, and an immediate and increased risk of job loss and homelessness to the prosecuted party ensues.
In countries such as the U.S. and U.K., first time minor offenses are becoming the basis for felony prosecution and extended jail sentences. Local prosecutors and district attorney coffers have swollen with funds dedicated to domestic violence prosecution. As a result of this “pro-arrest policy”, the funding keeps coming in from government agencies and special domestic violence groups.
The media and feminist advocates have popularized the criminal prosecution of domestic violence — it is no surprise why — the domestic violence industry collects billions of dollars in government and special funding.
In a climate that favors criminal prosecution for domestic disputes, the legal and social policies also encourage divorce and destruction of relationships. It is no surprise that the majority of domestic violence arrests lead to divorce and multi-year restraining orders imposed by the state. Parental and spousal alienation inevitably follow. The system that encourages criminal prosecution also encourages the broken family court system, where husbands, wives and children are embroiled in lengthy and expensive civil proceedings to sort out their lives.
It is unfortunate that the mainstream media and politicians in democratic institutions have not taken a hard look at the social policies and costs of the domestic violence industry. The citizenry also need to be properly educated on the devastating and unintended side effects of criminalizing domestic disputes. The root causes of IPV require intervention and treatment; not imprisonment, criminal records and destruction of families.