The Defenders

Marina Pisklakova

“I got involved helping these women like any other human being. One of them called me when she was assaulted by her husband and I called the police, social services, medical; everybody said it was a private matter, we don’t intervene. And that was something I couldn’t comprehend. She was injured, humiliated, and there was nowhere she could go. For me, that is probably the moment where I found most of my drive, and where I thought ‘That has to change.’”

Born the daughter of a Soviet Air Force colonel in the USSR, Marina Pisklakova-Parker had no intention of becoming a human rights defender when she was growing up. She went to college, received training as an aeronautical engineer, and began working as a researcher at the Institute for Socio-Economic Studies of the Population at the Russian Academy of Sciences. While conducting economic research, she started receiving survey responses in which women described horrible living conditions with their husbands, including violence, emotional manipulation, and general mistreatment. These accounts deeply troubled Marina, who couldn’t believe such things actually happened. When she showed the responses to the center’s director, he explained that in the West this is called domestic violence. It was the first time Marina had heard the term and she wanted to learn more.

A short time later, when Marina was taking her son to school, she noticed one of the mothers had horrible bruises on her face. The woman refused to tell Marina what had happened at first, but a few days later, she called Marina. Over the phone, the woman explained that a button had fallen off her husband’s suit. When she did not fix it quickly enough, he had struck her in the face with the heel of a shoe. She was distressed, embarrassed, and afraid. Marina asked why she didn’t simply leave him. The woman’s response would change Marina’s life: “Where would I go?”

Marina decided to help this woman by referring her to a group or agency for assistance and support. However, she soon discovered no such group existed in Russia. She contacted the director of a crisis center in Sweden, who traveled to Moscow to mentor Marina. Harnessing her passion and her new knowledge, Marina founded the first organization in Russia to help women experiencing domestic violence –the Association No to Violence, or ANNA (the first letters of the words in Russian). The association started out very small, with only Marina overseeing a telephone hotline provided by the Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The first woman Marina helped through ANNA’s helpline was afraid her husband was going to kill her, so Marina called the police. A few days later, Marina found out that the police had called the husband and told him to be more discreet, saying, “If you’re going to beat her, beat her quietly.” Many people accused Marina of actually provoking abuse by causing conflict between spouses.

Six months after the organization’s founding, Marina secured additional funding that she used to hire a couple of psychologists and lawyers who could provide additional support to the women seeking the help of ANNA. She also rented a small apartment in Moscow to use as a shelter for women to get away from abusive spouses and boyfriends.

As her association grew, Marina enlisted the help of others who could help improve the situation for women who are victims of domestic violence in Russia. For example, Marina worked closely with the police in an effort to educate officers and improve how they respond to calls from victims of abuse. ANNA currently runs over 150 shelters and crisis centers across Russia, and it is not the only resource available to victims of domestic violence, thanks to the cultural change started by Marina.

Slowly the situation in Russia has improved. While not solved, domestic violence is now an issue people talk about in Russia.

THE EPIDEMIC OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

There is a worldwide epidemic of violence against women. According to the World Health Organization, one out of every three women who has been in a relationship has experienced domestic violence. There are several factors that keep women in abusive relationships. First, like Russia before Marina’s work, many countries do not have a support system for women trying to leave an abusive relationship. Even in countries where these resources exist, abused women may not be aware of them. This makes leaving an abusive relationship especially hard for women who rely on their husbands for their income.

Secondly, people may not realize they’re being abused. In some societies, men and women are taught that toxic, abusive relationships are normal. In others, abusers emotionally manipulate their victims, convincing them that they deserve the abuse or promising the abuse will never happen again.

Finally, leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous. Women who have recently left an abusive relationship are at the highest murder risk of any group of women. Many victims go to stay with friends or family, but if the abuser knows where the victim is, there’s always the risk that the abuser will show up and violently attack the victim and those who are defending her.

Domestic violence is a violation of women’s human rights. It has horrible consequences for both women and their children. Domestic violence is never acceptable or justified, and it is never the fault of the victim.

WANT TO JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?

  • If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. There is help available.
  • Visit this link to learn about violence against women worldwide.

  • Work with a local women’s shelter to start a donation drive and create hygiene kits (a small plastic container with toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, a comb, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and lotion) at your school for women who leave a domestic violence situation.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.