Rape, abduction and harassment of a woman from her former partner. Threats against her, cutting her car brakes with the purpose to kill and forced abortion. The Court has condemned the authorities’ indifference to domestic violence. Unfair and degrading treatment of a woman.
Volodina v. Russia 09.07.2019 (no. 41261/17)
Domestic Violence and Discrimination Against Women. Insufficient legal status to deal with. The applicant complained that the Russian authorities had not protected her from repeated violent attacks, abductions, rapes and threat on behalf of her former partner.The Court found that the applicant had been subjected to physical and psychological ill-treatment without receiving appropriate protection from the authorities. Domestic violence was not recognized in Russian law, nor were there any restrictive measures. These deficiencies have clearly demonstrated that the authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the seriousness of this problem in Russia and the discrimination it brings to women. Infringement of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the ECHR in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination)
The applicant, previously known as Valeriya Igorevna Volodina, is a Russian national who was born in
1985 and lives in Ulyanovsk (Russia). She changed her name in 2018, and her new name is not
disclosed for security reasons.
Ms Volodina started a relationship with S. in 2014 and they lived together in Ulyanovsk. When she
moved out in May 2015, he became abusive and threatened to kill her if she refused to go back to
live with him.
Between January 2016 and March 2018 she reported seven episodes of serious violence or threats
of violence by her former partner, making emergency calls to the police or lodging formal criminal
complaints. Each time she went to the police or the hospital, injuries including bruising and
abrasions were recorded.
In particular, in the first half of 2016 she reported repeated physical attacks, kidnapping and assault,
and then in March 2018 a series of stalking incidents and death threats. One of the assaults,
involving S. punching her in the face and stomach when she was pregnant, resulted in her having to
undergo an abortion. Other incidents included S. cutting the brake hose of her car and stealing her
bag with her identity papers and two mobile telephones.
She made repeated attempts to move away, seeking refuge in Moscow. Although she had not left S.
with her new address, in January 2016 he tracked her down via her CV which she had published on
job-hunting websites, set up a false interview and took her back to Ulyanovsk against her will. On
another occasion, in September 2016, she found a GPS tracker in the lining of her bag. He
subsequently started stalking her outside her house, and attempted to kidnap her again by dragging
her out of a taxi.
No criminal investigation was ever opened into the use or threat of violence against her. A series of
pre-investigation enquiries were carried out, and the police interviewed S. However, they refused to
institute criminal proceedings because no publicly prosecutable offence had been committed. S. was
told to repair any damage he had caused and to return Ms Volodina’s personal effects.
In March 2018 the police began a criminal investigation into interference with Ms Volodina’s private
life after S. shared photographs of her on a social network without her consent. The proceedings
allowed the applicant to apply for State protection measures but she has not received any formal
decision on her request. The regional police considered that State intervention was not necessary as
the domestic violence was due to “ill feelings” between the applicant and S.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
Article 3 (ill-treatment)
The Court found that both the applicant’s physical injuries as well as the psychological impact of her
former partner’s controlling and coercive behaviour had reached the required level of severity under
Article 3 of the Convention and had triggered the authorities’ obligation to protect her from abuse
and violence inflicted by her former partner.
First, the Court found that Russia had failed to set up and apply effectively a system punishing all
forms of domestic violence and providing sufficient protection for victims. Save for a short period
between 2016 and 2017, domestic violence was not defined or mentioned in any form in Russian legislation, either as a separate offence or as an aggravating element of other offences. The existing criminal-law provisions were insufficient to encompass many forms of domestic violence, such as psychological or financial abuse or controlling or coercive behaviour.
Furthermore, Russian law did not provide for public prosecution of “minor bodily harm” or battery
charges, leaving it up to victims to bring private prosecution charges. That put an excessive burden
on victims, who were expected to collect evidence while often continuing to live with and be
financially dependent on the abuser. Moreover, private-prosecution cases could be terminated if the
victim withdrew her complaint. The Court reiterated that the prosecuting authorities should be able
to pursue the proceedings as a matter of public interest, even if the victim withdrew a complaint.
Secondly, the Russian authorities’ response to the applicant’s ill-treatment, involving particularly
serious offences, had been manifestly inadequate. Even though they had been informed, indeed
provided with evidence, of her former partner’s violent behaviour, and had to have been aware of a
real and immediate risk that it would recur, they had not taken any measure to protect her or to
censure him. Through their passivity they had allowed S. to continue threatening, harassing and
assaulting the applicant with impunity.
The Court pointed out in particular in that context that Russia remained among the few member
States whose legislation did not provide victims of domestic violence with any measures comparable
to a restraining order in other States. Such an order aims to prevent domestic violence from
recurring and to safeguard victims by requiring the offender to leave the shared residence and to
abstain from approaching or contacting the victim. The Russian Government did not identify any
equivalent measures that the authorities could use to ensure the protection of the applicant or to
censure S.’s conduct.
Thirdly, the State had failed in its duty to investigate the ill-treatment. Despite the applicant’s
credible claims of recurrent abuse, submitting in evidence medical reports, witness statements and
text messages, the authorities had been reluctant to open a criminal investigation against S. which
would have ensured his punishment. Indeed, the only criminal case instituted was for the lesser
offence of S. publishing photographs of the applicant.
Even when the applicant had had visible injuries, medical assessments were delayed and lines of
enquiry were limited to the police hearing the abuser’s version of events and to talking him into
returning the applicant’s property or repairing any damage. Moreover, the authorities had not once
considered instituting of their own motion an investigation into the applicant’s allegations, whereas
such serious offences as kidnapping and assault leading to the applicant having to terminate her
pregnancy could have been investigated as public-prosecution offences.
The Court therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention. Given that
finding, it considered that there was no need to examine the complaint under Article 13.
Article 14 in conjunction with Article 3
The Court found that domestic violence disproportionately affected women in Russia. It based that
finding on evidence submitted by the applicant and information from domestic and international
sources. That evidence showed that: women made up a large majority of victims of domestic violence in police statistics; violence against women was largely under-reported and underrecorded; and women had much less chance of having their abusers prosecuted and convicted owing to the domestic classification of such offences as amenable to private prosecution.
Since a large-scale structural bias had been shown to exist, the applicant did not need to prove that
she had also been a victim of individual prejudice.
Despite that situation and the generalised nature of the problem, the Russian authorities had not to
date put in place policy measures to counter discriminatory treatment of women and to protect
them from domestic abuse and violence.
In the Court’s opinion, the continued failure to adopt legislation to combat domestic violence and
the absence of any form of restraining or protection orders clearly demonstrated that the
authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the seriousness and extent of the problem of domestic
violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women. In particular, the Court agreed with a
recent assessment by a UN Committe that legislative amendments in 2017 decriminalising assault on
relatives “go in the wrong direction” and “lead to impunity for perpetrators” of domestic violence.
By tolerating for many years a climate which had been conducive to domestic violence, the Russian
authorities had failed to create conditions for substantive gender equality that would enable women
to live free from fear of ill-treatment or attacks on their physical integrity and to benefit from the
equal protection of the law.
There had therefore been a violation of Article 14, taken in conjunction with Article 3.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held, by five votes to two, that Russia had to pay the applicant 20,000 euros (EUR) in
respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 5,875.69 in respect of costs and expenses.
Judges Serghides and Pinto de Albuquerque, joined by Judge Dedov, expressed separate opinions.
These opinions are annexed to the judgment(echrcaselaw.com).