- A first offense that does not seriously injure would no longer be a crime
- Women's rights groups fear proposed law would encourage violence
Moscow (CNN)There's an old Russian expression: "If he beats you it means he loves you."
Now, in a chilling reminder of that sentiment, Russian legislators are moving toward decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence. Women's rights groups fear it will reignite a problem that still plagues much of Russian society.
The Duma has passed a bill in its first reading that has been dubbed the "slapping law." The pending legislation would consider an assault -- if it's a first offense that does not seriously injure the person -- an administrative, rather than criminal offense. The legislation would also apply to children.
Church and conservative influence
The bill's sponsors, including arch-conservative senator Yelena Mizulina, say the proposed law would simply bring family law into line with reforms passed last summer that loosened punishment for other minor assaults.
Mizulina has called the existing laws "anti-family" and a "baseless intervention into family affairs" that allows prosecution for just "a scratch."
Mizulina, a staunch proponent of traditional values, was also the author of Russia's controversial so-called "gay propaganda law," which prohibits "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships."
The Russian Orthodox Church, with its emphasis on traditional family norms, is also influencing the debate. So are the traditional rules of Russian family life, including the "domostroi," a centuries-old manual prescribing strict rules of behavior and requiring absolute submission to the head of the family.
Women's rights groups oppose
Women's rights groups say domestic violence has an insidious hold on many Russian families and fear that decriminalizing assaults will only encourage more violence.
Activist Alena Popova has launched a petition on change.org demanding that the Duma pass a completely new law against domestic violence. More than 174,000 people have signed it. Petitions have had an effect on government decisions before, but it is unclear whether this one will change the minds of lawmakers.
Official data on domestic violence in Russia is not centrally collected so it's hard to verify. But the state-run news agency RIA Novosti reports that 40% of serious crimes in Russia are committed in the family, 36,000 women are beaten by their husbands daily, and 12,000 women die yearly as a result of domestic violence -- one woman every 44 minutes.