Russian harassment claims mocked


Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 6

Sofia Rusova was a young political journalist in a provincial Russian city when a lawmaker pursued her with sexual text messages, staked her and even assaulted her near her apartment.

“I was in shock and for some time I couldn’t walk the streets alone,” she said.

She knew from prior experience that police would not react and most of her colleagues did not take the situation seriously.

“Some people who heard my story saw it as a funny adventure and told me I should be happy to be an object of such interest,” she said.

In the end, her father confronted the lawmaker and the pressure subsided.

Rusova’s story is typical in Russia, where sexual harassment is seen as a joke rather than a problem.

In an unprecedented case, three women publicly accused senior lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of inappropriate conduct.

They were accused of undermining his career for political reasons and being anti-Russian.

On Tuesday, BBC journalist Farida Rustamova said she has an audio recording of an encounter in Slutsky’s office when he groped her and asked her to become his mistress in exchange for “help.”

At the time of the incident in March last year, she “was afraid to come out with this alone,” but was bolstered by the women who spoke out in recent weeks, Rustamova said.

News Web site Meduza in an editorial said Slutsky must “either give up his mandate himself or be forced to do it,” but when on Wednesday reporters brought up the accusations with Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, he advised females who feel threatened to quit.

“Is working in the Duma dangerous to you? If so, switch your job,” he said, Vedomosti reported, before wishing them a happy International Women’s Day.

Rustamova was the fourth woman in a string of accusations against Slutsky that began last month and were initially anonymous.

He labeled them a political attack ordered by his enemies and even said the scandal “boosted my gravitas rather than took it away.”

Most female Duma members also criticized Slutsky’s accusers.

Oksana Pushkina, the only lawmaker who stepped up in the journalists’ defense, said fellow female lawmakers warned her that fighting sexual harassment would harm Russia’s already low birthrate.

“It’s a catastrophe that we speak in such terms,” Pushkina said.

Pushkina has proposed a bill on sexual harassment that would “make men control their hands and their emotions” in the workplace.

“I was told it would take me 15 years to make this law a reality,” she said.

Women’s rights were in theory at the center of the early Soviet project and International Women’s Day remains a public holiday in Russia, but in reality the main change to women’s lives was that they were expected to have a job as well as run a home.

Punishment for domestic abuse was softened last year, for example, with most abusers now only paying a fine and facing no time in custody.

Even cases of rape rarely make it to trial, Pushkina said.

“Sexual harassment cases all fall apart at the stage of a complaint,” she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has led the nation for almost two decades, is certainly no feminist.

In 2006, he appeared to praise the sexual stamina of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was subsequently forced to resign over rape accusations.

“What a powerful guy he turned out to be. Raped 10 women. I didn’t expect that, he surprised us all. We all envy him,” Putin was quoted as saying at the time by Kommersant.

“Chances are, nothing will happen to Slutsky and he will keep his mandate,” said Alyona Popova, who heads feminist association The W Project.

Rusova was also pessimistic.

“People will take the side of the person of authority, because our society is such that it is easier to blame the woman,” she said. “When you find yourself in this situation, you have nowhere to go.”