MPs mock harassment claims as #MeToo falls flat in Russia

2018-03-07 15:40
A demonstrator hold a placard reading 'Sexism, that is not my gender.' (Claude Paris, AP, file)

A demonstrator hold a placard reading 'Sexism, that is not my gender.' (Claude Paris, AP, file)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

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

"I was in shock and for some time I couldn't walk the streets alone," she said.

But 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 says. In the end, she asked her father to confront the lawmaker and the pressure subsided.

READ: Saying 'Me Too' in Japan has risk of being bashed, ignored

Rusova's story is typical in Russia, where sexual harassment is seen as a joke rather than a problem, even as the #MeToo movement sweeps across western countries.

'Low behaviour'

In an unprecedented recent case, three women publicly accused senior lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of kissing and groping them.

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

"You tried to force kisses on me, to touch me, you were rude and pushy," one of the women, Daria Zhuk, said in a video appeal to Slutsky last week. "You still deny it?"

"Are you not ashamed to be working in parliament and stoop to such low behaviour?" said Zhuk, who works as a producer for independent Dozhd channel and said the incident occurred when Slutsky came to the studio for an interview.

READ: Mandela's granddaughter says #MeToo: 'I was raped in my bedroom'

Zhuk and two female reporters first made the allegations against Slutsky anonymously in February. He labelled them a political attack ordered by his enemies and even said the scandal "boosted my gravitas rather than took it away".

"Attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation... and are bound to fail," he wrote on his Facebook page.

He proceeded to joke with his colleagues in the comments about dividing up female journalists, as another MP suggested he could also "take a couple".

"We'll discuss," Slutsky replied.

Fellow lawmaker Anton Morozov went as far as to say the women were actors in a conspiracy. "Perhaps Russian journalists received an order from the West to compromise him," he told Meduza news website.

Women's rights

Most female members of the Duma also lashed out at Slutsky's accusers.

Oksana Pushkina, the only lawmaker who stepped up in the journalists' defence, said fellow female lawmakers warned her that attempting to fight sexual harassment would harm Russia's already low birth rate.

"It's a catastrophe that we speak in such terms," she said.

Pushkina has proposed a bill on sexual harassment that would "make men control their hands and their emotions" in the work environment, but so far she has seen no support from her colleagues.

"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 centre of the early Soviet project and International Women's Day, March 8, remains a public holiday in Russia.

But in reality, the main change to most women's lives in the USSR was that they were expected to have a job as well as run a home.

In recent years those rights have suffered additional blows as the government extols conservative views on gender roles and labels feminism a hostile Western trend.

Punishment for domestic abuse was softened in 2017, for example, with most abusers now only paying a fine and facing no time in custody.

'Nowhere to go'

Even cases of rape rarely make it to trial, said Pushkina. "Sexual harassment cases all fall apart at the stage of a complaint."

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

In 2006, he appeared to praise the sexual stamina of Israel ex-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 newspaper.

"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."

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    russia

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.