Rights campaigners condemn law that orders wife to pay spouse’s penalty for violence if they share bank account.

we are the majority
An activist holds a sign that reads ‘We are the majority’ in a protest outside the Kremlin on International Women’s Day. Photograph: Tass

Russian women who are victims of domestic abuse are being forced to pay fines handed down to their abusers, campaigners have said.

Controversial amendments to Russian law decriminalised some forms of domestic violence in February. The changes mean violence against a spouse or children that results in bruising or bleeding but not broken bones is punishable by 15 days in prison or a fine of 30,000 rubles (£380) if they do not happen more than once a year. Previously, these offences carried a maximum jail sentence of two years.

Marina Pisklakova-Parker, head of the Anna Centre, an NGO which provides support to victims of domestic abuse, told the Guardian women were “having to pay the fines of the perpetrator of the abuse, if the man does not pay”.

Pisklakova-Parker said she had worked with a woman in a shelter who had received a court notice “demanding that she pays the fine for her husband’s abuse, because the funds come from a shared bank account”.

She said conditions for women who experienced domestic abuse had become significantly worse since the amendments were passed, and the threat of these fines was further deterring women from seeking help or reporting their abusers to the police.

“Official statistics will demonstrate a decrease in cases next year, but this is not because much has been done,” Pisklakova-Parker said. “Rather, it is because fewer cases are being filed. The amendments have sent a message to women that it is useless to search for help, and to the perpetrators that this is all right to do.”

According to domesticviolence.ru, more than 16 million women a year experience domestic violence in Russia, but only 10% of them go to the police.

The interior ministry estimates that domestic violence kills 14,000 of these women a year, which equates to one death every 40 minutes.

Russian activists are pushing for a bill on domestic violence prevention to reach the State Duma – the lower house of parliament – and a petition supporting the bill has received 258,000 signatures.

Alena Popova, an activist who has campaigned for a bill on domestic violence prevention, said “it’s a common situation that the woman will pay her abuser’s fine”.

She added: “According to the law, the woman needs to pay if [she] and her husband share a common family bank account. In reality, the man will often ask the woman to pay because he thinks she was wrong to complain or because he doesn’t have enough money.”

There have been a string of high-profile domestic abuse cases in recent months. Last week, 26-year-old Margarita Grachyova’s husband was arrested after attempting to chop off her hands with an axe.

According to Popova, Grachyova had been beaten by her husband, Dmitry, on a number of occasions. She had reported the attacks to the police but received no help. Grachyova survived this most recent attack, but one of her hands had to be amputated and doctors were unsure whether she would regain use of the other.

Russia’s high commissioner for human rights, Tatiana Moskalkova, said this month she recognised the “need to develop and adopt a law on countering domestic violence”, and called for the government to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul convention.

The director of the UN Women’s office for Europe and central Asia, Alia El-Yassir, has pressed for “all efforts to get national legislation in line with international commitments, standards and norms”.

Anna Rivina, who founded Nasiliu.net, said her project had recently created a video using male celebrities to raise awareness of domestic violence in Russia “because, in our current patriarchal society, the words have more weight in the mouth of a man than a woman”. The video has so far received more than 200,000 views nationwide.

Sergey Shargunov, one three MPs who voted against changes to the law in February, said: “I believe the decriminalisation of domestic violence has a negative social impact since those people who think it normal to behave violently within the home may interpret it as signal that their actions will have no punitive consequences.”

Supporters of the amendments say they are designed to protect Russian traditions and promote the family as a sacred institution.

The Guardian: Russian victims of domestic abuse forced to pay perpetrator’s fine