Crisis center activists in St. Petersburg turned very quickly to the state and got fast results. In 1995, after activists lobbied the progressive mayor, the city opened a city shelter to provide “social assistance to women in danger.’^4 The first director, a feminist academic, had been inspired to establish the shelter, because she “had been to America and knew that a shelter needed to be founded.” Anticipating the decline in U. S. funding, she sought state support. She also believed that “it was important to hold the government accountable because they created the situation for domestic violence.” The shelter holds up to thirty people, who have been of­ficially allowed to stay up to two months (Amnesty International 2005, 43). In addition to physical shelter, as with the independent women’s crisis centers, they also provide psychological and legal assistance via a hotline and in person.

Although the shelter was founded by those who self-identified as feminist, working with the city administration required compromises. For example, the city kept trying to use the shelter space for homeless immigrant women and chil­dren, and although the director wanted to help women only once they had made the decision to help themselves, the city social services started sending women to the shelter (and abrogating their own responsibilities). A central bone of con­tention was that many of the women who came to the center were older, and the government was “only interested in women of child-bearing age,” leading to age limits and eventually a requirement that sheltered women have children.






St. PetersburgFIGURE 5.1. Ministry of Internal Affairs campaign about violence in the family, 2006. Moscow, Russia. Photography courtesy of Elisabeth Duban.

But the center has lasted for more than a decade on the government budget, and the city’s commitment to the shelter was reaffirmed in the 2000 law. Police in St. Petersburg, some of whom assisted Amnesty with their report, also appear to have a new understanding of domestic violence. These changes, primarily a result of the long-standing commitment of activists, were also fostered by norms and models from the West. In a city that sees itself as the gateway to Europe, the in­ternational prestige awarded to these local activists also certified their concerns.


The Republic of Karelia, on the border of Finland, is another place in which there has been meaningful reform of state practice. Only three years after the St. Pe­tersburg shelter was founded, Karelia established its own shelter for women with children who have suffered from domestic violence (Liapounova and Drachova 2004). The contribution of the local independent women’s crisis center was recog­nized when its director was also given a post within the Ministry of Social Wel­fare (Merzova 2004).

Beginning in 1999, when the director of the Karelian Centre for Gender Stud­ies organized a multidisciplinary seminar on domestic violence, more formalized state-society coordination on domestic violence has developed (Amnesty Inter­national 2005). Attended by local and regional administrators and social ser­vices, this first seminar brought official attention to the issue. A 2000 seminar conducted by the independent women’s crisis center led to the establishment of a protocol about cooperation between NGOs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Center of Family Planning, and the juridical clinic of the Petrozavdosk state university (Merzova 2004, 132). As a result, a woman police officer comes to the shelter when a woman first arrives, to help her understand her legal options and, with shelter staff, to support her decisions (Amnesty International 2005, 43). The police also “actively try to inform the population about violence in the family . . . and about the legal rights of victims of violence.” The Karelian Ministry of In­ternal Affairs also introduced training on violence against women in the family for public safety officers and encourages officers to “work more proactively with female victims of violence in the family” (44).

According to the director of the gender center, these changes have led violence in family to be considered as “contradicting public acknowledged norms of moral­ity, as violating human rights, not as a private but as a social matter” (Boichenko 2004, 17). With support from a republic commission on women and yearly fora on women, she argues that there is now widespread attention from all ministries, agencies, public organizations, schools, and libraries and what she considers the formation of a new social policy that is anti-violence, anti-discriminatory, and gender-equal.

The push for these changes came not just from dynamic activists but from in­ternational attention. RAROLC came out of links between Vermont and Kare­lia that date back to 1991 and that continue to thrive. The protocol emerged with support from Project Harmony’s Domestic Violence Community Partner­ship Program. Facilitated by ethnic and linguistic ties and geographic proxim­ity, support also came from the Nordic Network for Crisis Centres for Women in the Barents region, which brought Nordic activists and public administrators to talk about coordination just months before Americans came for the Project Harmony-sponsored conference. The Nordic Council and bilateral agreements with the neighboring Nordic countries have enabled the police to visit and coop­erate with their Nordic counterparts (Amnesty International 2005). One police officer told Amnesty that such international experience “had shown him and his colleagues that with a different approach to violence and more preventative work, more serious crimes could be averted” (44).