“It Starts with Quarrels.” Lawyer and Former Investigator Speaks on Domestic Violence Statistics

How the police investigate such cases
Dmitry Alekseev | 20 February 2021
“It Starts with Quarrels.” Lawyer and Former Investigator Speaks on Domestic Violence Statistics
Photo: alamy

Victims of domestic violence are silent. It is difficult for a mother, who is on her maternity leave, to leave her husband, and children rarely complain about their parents. District police officers are overwhelmed with paperwork and do not know what is going on in other people’s houses. Unfortunately, investigators work on only tragic cases when they already can’t change anything. Pravmir.ru talked about domestic violence with Dmitry Alekseev, a criminal and civil lawyer, who worked as an investigator at the Internal Affairs Directorate (IAD) from 2002 to 2008.

I woke up, my wife was dead. Why he was acquitted

How often did you encounter domestic violence in your investigative practice?”

Dmitry Alekseev

There is no concept of “domestic violence” in the criminal law. This vague term can include anything: from daily nagging at one’s husband with saying things, like “all men are normal, but you”, to pestering one’s children, to beating family members by an alcoholic, to rape and even to murder.

On the other hand, the very terms “violence” or “violent acts”, on the contrary, have a very specific legal meaning and are subject to criminal punishment. At the same time, it is absolutely impossible to somehow combine them into something whole, because they can be either investigated by the Internal Affairs Directorate or by the Investigative Committee, depending on their severity and jurisdiction. Sometimes no one investigates a case at all, due to its specifics, as in the cases of the so-called private prosecution. And the process itself is different.

I have always been a supporter of evaluating each crime separately.”

Have you investigated crimes that people committed against their relatives – wives, elderly mothers and fathers, or children?”

If we are talking about a kind of average domestic violence, meaning specific physical violence (we can’t talk about moral violence, this is not the competence of law enforcement agencies), then investigators rarely work on such criminal cases.

The thing is that grave crimes in the domestic sphere – murder or causing severe bodily harm – constitute an insignificant volume in the total mass of such cases. Basically, these are crimes of small or medium severity – beatings, insults, torment, infliction of light bodily harm or moderate injury, and threats of murder. Most of these criminal cases are either in the jurisdiction of the Internal Affairs Directorate, or, in general, they are private prosecution cases, when a person directly goes to court.

Moreover, even in difficult cases, when a murder is committed under “suitable” circumstances, one needs to carefully find out the reason. Perhaps domestic violence has nothing to do with it…

Here is an example from my practice. A couple constantly drank, quarreled, and brawled. It didn’t come to a beating, but the woman did hit the man with a towel / rolling pin. After one such quarrel, they fought, and the man went to bed. In the morning, when the man woke up, he saw the room covered in blood and the woman was dead.

The examination revealed that she died of a massive brain hematoma, caused by a blow with a hard blunt object. The man, of course, was taken into custody, accused of causing severe bodily harm that resulted in death.

During the trial, two things became clear. It turned out that the victim died not from a beating, but from the rupture of another, old hematoma, which had emerged due to oncology. And most importantly, the man did not lie, he really did not beat her. After he went to bed, his partner went to another house, where she continued to drink, there she had a quarrel, after which, she was severely beaten. And when she came back home, she died.

Can this particular crime be considered domestic violence and its result? Yes and no. Yes, because there were beatings, the man did hit her in the course of a quarrel. There really was quarreling. But no, because the fight did not cause the woman’s death. Accidental acquaintances inflicted serious bodily harm. The man was acquitted.

But this is rather an exception. The vast majority of cases are more obvious and understandable.

Here’s another example. It was an absolutely normal and ordinary family. Mother and son lived together. The woman had problems with nerves, she broke down on her young child. Once, enraged that he didn’t learn a lesson well, she began to beat him and inadvertently and unwillingly, most likely caused damage to one of his important internal organs. He required hospitalization and surgery. The injury caused a disability. Unfortunately, I did not follow up what verdict the case ended with, but it was sent to court with a full confession of guilt and remorse for what the woman had done.

We should also note this. In my practice, the vast majority of all “domestic” crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol (including the case with mother hitting her child after she had a drink). Moreover, it happened in dysfunctional families, to put it mildly. This is where the problem is.”

Is alcohol usually a catalyst?”

“The catalyst is an unsettled life and some kind of mental problems. Alcohol is just a kind of trigger.

Yes, you can say it is a catalyst, if you take chemistry. In general, in my practice, there were no cases when someone beat someone in a normal family on a regular basis.

Think about it, a normal person won’t beat a woman or a child.”

I’d like to believe it, but…”

I can’t speak for everyone. I judge only by my practice. I haven’t had such cases where something like this happened in a normal, stable family.

But such crimes are often hidden from prying eyes. I was convinced of this myself. There was a women’s assistance center in the building where the Bar Association is located. They told me they needed help. I brought two computers for them, installed and configured them myself so that they could work.

Even during the hour that I was in the center, I saw that many women came there and complained about such situations. I was told that people came to them with their belongings even. A woman arrived there, she had a child in her arms and some belongings, as much as she could carry, when she left her husband. She had nowhere else to run. It was the only place where they could be protected.

There really is a problem of domestic violence. But it is so hidden that information about such cases rarely reaches the law enforcement agencies, specifically the investigators and prosecutors. These are very latent crimes. This is the difficulty. The problem cannot be hushed up.”

Come, when he kills you”

How are statistics on domestic violence compiled, what is included and what is not?”

This is a very interesting question! The thing is it is not specially formed in any way due to the absence of the “domestic violence” concept.

Purely theoretically, one can try to form it through the analysis of the database of the Information Center of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, where all the data on violations are collected. The procedure is such that after the initiation and completion of the criminal case, the investigator puts up statistical cards in which it is possible to indicate the conditions accompanying the crime and contributing to it. Theoretically, something similar can be distinguished there, but in practice it is unlikely. I have not met it, but perhaps something has changed recently.”

A study published in Novaya Gazeta cites the following data: the total number of women killed in 2018 was 8300. According to the findings of the study, 5000 women (61%) could be victims of domestic violence during this period. At the same time, the Ministry of Internal Affairs lists only 253 women, who were victims of family conflicts in 2018. In your opinion how can we explain such a difference in the obtained statistics?”

The thing is there is no concept of “family conflict” in our legislation. What does this concept include? What kind of crime has been committed? What are the characteristics? It is unclear.

For example, a man and a woman are drinking together. They had a quarrel, she drove him crazy, for example. His drunken brain was clouded and he killed her. Before that, they didn’t quarrel much and there were no complaints of beatings. Is this a family conflict? I don’t think so… I think this is a common household thing. It’s not the kind of domestic violence, to escape which women run away from home, for example. The lack of a clear definition prevents us from classifying it into a category.

Here we need to operate with clear formulations. Otherwise, it is impossible in criminal law. Or else, anyone will classify anything as domestic violence.”

How to prevent crimes that have been committed as a result of domestic violence?”

Criminal punishment is imposed for an already committed crime or for its actually documented and proven attempt. There is no punishment for thinking about a crime.

In addition, there are objective criteria of proof that cannot be avoided. A woman says, “He beat me.” The man replies, “She herself charged at me, but stumbled and fell.” An examination is being carried out, which establishes that, yes, such damage could well have formed both from a blow and from an independent fall from a height of one’s own growth. How to figure out who is lying if all evidence is of equal strength?

But there is a way out. Everything usually starts with complaints about quarrels and arguments. Beatings and murders extremely rarely occur right away, except in the heat of passion.

Therefore, district police officers are simply obliged to be aware of the fact that a subject prone to domestic violence lives in their district, because in the end, when a complaint or a statement is made, these officers will be the ones to work on them.

And district police officers must prevent such crimes, carry out preventive work, carry out door-to-door rounds when possible, talk with people. In the end, they should know where and who can do what, and they shouldn’t be indifferent to what is happening.

Unfortunately, our modern district police officers have been turned into the lowest ranks of the law enforcement agencies, although in fact they are most important for protecting people! A shaft of paperwork, a million inspections by supervisory authorities, a meager salary with a gigantic load of work lead to an endless turnover of staff, when there are simply not enough employees, or they do not have time to get to know people who live in the district, because they leave. The notorious saying, “Come when he kills you” emerges from this situation. This attitude comes not only from the callousness of the employees and their indifference, but also from the physical impossibility of covering everything and keeping up with everything. Although there is a lot of indifference, I won’t deny it.”

So when he comes, will I throw a piece of paper at him?”

Are there cases of violence against men by women? How does this happen?”

This happens relatively rarely for many reasons. The first is the latency of such crimes. Few men will go to police to complain. If such incidents happen, they aren’t largely known.

The second reason is that sometimes violence can be rather psychological (both in relation to men and in relation to women), outside the jurisdiction of a criminal or administrative court, it does not form corpus delicti.”

Why do victims of violence often not report beatings to the police?”

They are often in a dependent position. They are helpless. It can be a child, an elderly person, a woman, who is on her maternity leave and who has nowhere to go. These people face violence but do not report it to the police.

Sometimes victims are silent about beatings or other forms of violence because they fear the consequences. If I report him to the police, he will beat me even more.”

What do you think, if there were protective orders – the aggressor would not have the right to approach the victim – would they somehow change this situation?”

It’s hard to tell. I recently re-watched a film with Jennifer Lopez, Enough for Me (2002). The heroine comes to the police and says, “My husband beats me.” An officer replies, “Okay. We will give you a restraining order.” “What am I going to do with it? When he comes, will I throw a piece of paper at him?” It was a dialogue with a policeman. I also have concerns that restraining orders will not work.

First, this restraining order will come down to exactly the same thing: a person will write the same statement about its violation.

Second, what will be the legal significance of this paper? How to get it through the court? Who will go to the court and with what petition? This procedural issue is not regulated at all. We have to carry out gigantic work to determine who gets out with this, on what application, in what time frame, and which court should decide it? What are the consequences of its violation and what is the appeal period? Should the person who beats you be notified of the court hearing, that the letter of protection has been received? Can he appeal and prove his innocence? We will not have this. This system is too complicated for this.

In our reality, this will not work also due to the institution of registration. In 99 percent of cases, the victim and the aggressor live together and are registered in the same apartment. How will the warrant prevent the aggressor from approaching the victim? Only a court can deprive him of the right to live there, and it is very difficult! The court can’t leave him unregistered. It can’t restrict the right to reside. And if he is also the owner of the apartment, then nothing can be done at all.

Many crimes are committed in Russia. In countries where there are fewer crimes, prevention work is carried out at the bottom level and crimes are prevented. In the States, if you drive into some residential area with one-story buildings, people will immediately ask you who you are. They will immediately inform the police if you, God forbid, do something wrong. Neighbors look after each other in a good sense of the word. We don’t have that. In this I see the main problem that the district police officers do not solve this problem. The problem is not in the absence of restraining orders.”

Why does the victim sometimes refuse to report the beatings in cases of domestic violence? Can the investigator influence this?”

No, the situation is more complicated. All statements are submitted to the IAD duty unit, which distributes them for inspection to different units. This can be a criminal investigation department, district police officers, and so on. In a huge part, the statements may not reach the investigator at all, because of a refusal to initiate a criminal case by an inspection unit, by district police officers, for example. This refusal can be for a variety of reasons: there is no evidence, for example, or the victim simply took back their statement.

I would like to note that not all applications can be “taken back”, but only a limited number of them, in cases of the so-called private prosecution, where the victim himself usually acts as the prosecutor instead of the public prosecutor. If the crime is grave, then it is impossible to take back the statement.

Often there are cases when a husband beat his wife, for example, so that she ended up in an emergency room. The hospital, according to the law, transfers information about the beating to the criminal investigation department. An investigation begins, the victim tells everything as it was, and a week later the couple reconciles. The wife goes to take back her statement, but there is no such process. As a result, the husband gets a criminal record, even if the wife begs the police not to judge him.

An investigator, if he has the material of the investigation, can’t force the victim to “take back” the statement. This is impossible by virtue of the law. Another thing is that he can convince the victim to lie, that is, to say that she herself fell down and rashly told it was because of her partner. But such “advice” is illegal and punishable by law. A lot of employees have been convicted for this.”

What needs to be changed in the legislation to reduce domestic violence?”

The main thing is to strengthen the service of district commissioners. They are the foundation of the safety of ordinary people.

Second is to reconsider the jurisdiction of a number of crimes. For example, transferring beatings or minor health injuries to the area of public prosecution so that they can be investigated.”

Since you are here…

…we do have a small request. More and more people visit Orthodoxy and the World website. However, resources for editorial are scarce. In comparison to some mass media, we do not make paid subscription. It is our deepest belief that preaching Christ for money is wrong.

Having said that, Pravmir provides daily articles from an autonomous news service, weekly wall newspaper for churches, lectorium, photos, videos, hosting and servers. Editors and translators work together towards one goal: to make our four websites possible - Pravmir.ru, Neinvalid.ru, Matrony.ru and Pravmir.com. Therefore our request for help is understandable.

For example, 5 euros a month is it a lot or little? A cup of coffee? It is not that much for a family budget, but it is a significant amount for Pravmir.

If everyone reading Pravmir could donate 5 euros a month, they would contribute greatly to our ability to spread the word of Christ, Orthodoxy, life's purpose, family and society.