26 September 2012, 13:12

Sexual harassment in Russia

Sexual harassment in Russia
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Sexual harassment has over the years become less and less acceptable in many countries. What might have been seen as harmless flirting in the 1960's might now meet with a lawsuit, as women stand up for themselves in the workplace. Similar pressures are now being felt in Russia, where a viral internet campaign has highlighted the issue.

The newly-formed anti-sexism group is called RosNahal which roughly translates to “brazen Russian”, that’s a group responsible for viral Russian internet campaign which forced politicians in the Duma to take notice. The group held pickets near the State Duma and released a video showing the kind of unwanted attention and sometimes offensive advances that Russian women face on a daily basis. Thanks to their efforts, Russia’s ruling party has decided that Russia needs a separate article prosecuting sexual harassment in its administrative code while the logistics for enforcing and proving such offences are still up in the discussion. Russia’s ruling party has suggested a steep fine of up to 50,000 rub which is about 1,000£ to punish any would-be sexual harassers. Olga Tarasova, an expert in social issues at the Higher School of Economics believes it’s a good time for a new law on sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment in the street has got to a point when a good-looking woman cannot walk the street without being grabbed and called names when she refuses to continue the conversation. And that’s very stressful for girls and women because they’re constantly being pressed by men in the streets. And the worst part is that some Russian men are so rude and disrespectful! So I fully support the initiative of Russian authorities to punish those men who offend, intimidate and harass women in the streets. First of all, any physical contact should be strictly prohibited. And that concerns especially grabbing. And second of all, if a woman refuses to have a conversation with a man in the street, he should not be too persistent and should never call her names, because that’s really offensive.”

As it stands, Russia isn’t known for its policing of sexual harassment and there’s not specific legislation that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. A judge in Saint Petersburg made headlines in Russia and the West a few years ago when he proclaimed that if there was no sexual harassment, there would be no children! But Russia today isn’t totally without laws. There’s article 113 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation that punishes individuals trying to force members of opposite sex to engage in sexual relations via means like black mail or other types of threat, although nothing covers verbal harassment. Sergei Belov, a Russian lawyer, stresses that for the law to work it would need to be specific.

“As far as I know, in America there’re no strict formalized definitions of what exactly constitutes harassment. In Russian law potential amendment is tricky, because for charges to be brought any harassment acts need to be caught on camera or something along those lines. So to avoid this we would need a list of specific acts to be classified as harassment, instead of a vague general rule.”

Change looks to be in the air, though. United Russia’s thought behind punishing such verbal harassment falls in line with similar moves taken across Europe, like the commitment by the Council of Europe Convention on violence against women to criminalize verbal, non-verbal or physical sexual harassment. Most recently Belgium introduced 250€ fine for sexual harassment that also includes offensive or insulting behavior on the streets towards women. This legislation too was in part passed after a video, shot by a female student who was verbally harassed on the daily basis, went viral. For now, female right groups in Russia will be waiting to see whether the Duma’s promised act on unwanted harassment comes to pass and just how it can be implemented.

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