It was our first night at a club in Russia. Our whole floor--Americans, French, Germans, Finns, etc.--collided with each other on the crowded metro as we awaited what would hopefully be a fun night of dancing and hanging out. We arrived at the club and immediately felt at ease as we listened to American techno-ized songs.
A few hours later with blistered feet and flushed faces, we exited the club to negotiate a fare for the taxi ride home. As soon as we stepped outside, some kind of movement across the street captivated us. Like blurred focus on a camera lens, it first seemed like the hunched-over woman in high heels was too drunk to walk as she hobbled unnaturally down the street next to a man holding tightly onto her. Seconds later, our vision became clearer. The woman was not too drunk; the man was forcefully dragging her down the street. Despite the distance half-way down the block and across the street, we distinctively saw his arm extended towards her, shoving her into the wall as she cowered in fear. We saw the outline of his hand slap her across the face, clutch her delicate neck tightly.
I felt my own throat close up. I felt like it was happening to me.
We rushed towards the curb as we held each other's hands, as if instinctively feeling what she was feeling. We yelled. We ran to the taxi drivers who stared in the same direction, aimlessly chain smoking their beloved cigarettes.
"Look! Do you see that?" we cry.
"See what?" one driver responds dryly.
"That man and woman. He just hit her!"
"What man? I don't see anything."
"Right there! Across the street. You're looking at it right now! Help!"
"I don't see anything," he spits out.
He sees her. They all see her. We watch as petrified and helpless bystanders on a cold Russian night as the common in private unfolds in the public. She slowly slides down the wall, as if to collapse in a heap on the frozen cement. The man walks away, around the corner. After an excruciating sixty seconds, she stands up, fixes herself, and turns the corner after him.
We get in the cab. None of us speak for what seems like eternity. As we speed down the empty streets, none of us can get the woman off of our minds. None of us will forget what we saw because unlike the majority of Russians, we refuse self-imposed blindness.
- One woman is killed every hour, every day by a husband or partner. Per year, a minimum of 14,000 women are killed due to domestic violence. In comparison, in the ten years Russians were fighting a war in Afghanistan, roughly the same number of soldiers were killed. (Amnesty International)
- According to one survey of seven regions in Russia, three out of every four wives experience physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse during the course of their marriage. The study also noted that "a full 90 percent of respondents had experienced domestic violence in their own relationships and/or had witnessed abuse in their parents' relationships." (Council for Women, Moscow State University)
- There is no term for domestic violence in the Russian legal code. (United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA)