Why issue differences are not important here
The book’s argument also rests on an assumption that the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking in women have similar enough politics that the differences are not causally important. Perhaps they are different. Perhaps women who have been battered make more appealing claimants to donors and human rights advocates than victims of sexual violence, especially the ones who have chosen to travel abroad to engage in the sex industry but end up coerced. Granting women the right and the economic and social support to opt out of violent intimate relationships may be more easily incorporated into societal norms than addressing sexual violence. Interest in funding anti-domestic violence initiatives, in a world where activists have succeeded in transforming battery from a private to a public concern, might also reflect the new trend of targeted consumerism as activism and might leave donors and human rights advocates less interested in sexual assault. In the specific context of Russia, Sundstrom (2006, ch. 3) argues that foreign assistance was more successful on the issue of domestic violence than employment discrimination and sexual harassment precisely because domestic violence could be framed in terms of bodily harm. In the language of social movement theorists, this framing was more resonant with Russian culture and society because it was universal.
Moreover, perhaps fully remedying sexual assault is a more radical undertaking than eliminating domestic violence as a systemic problem. It would require constituting a system and culture that recognizes women’s sexual autonomy and validates women’s rights to sexual pleasure. This is a monumental shift as even societies often seen as most progressive on this issue, including the United States, resist giving women the right and the opportunity to choose freely whether and when to be sexually intimate with another person (Schulhofer 1998; Zippel 2006). Finally, trafficking in women in some ways is such a different kind of issue because it invokes more directly notions of state sovereignty and security, especially in the post-9/11 world.
Though I acknowledge these differences in the issues at a theoretical level, there is little evidence of their importance here. Sexual assault was the first issue that interveners took up in Russia and, despite some flux in global interest, remains a central component of the global critique of gender violence, for example as illustrated in a recent U. N. report on violence against women (see U. N. Secretary General 2006). Other forms of sexual violence, especially female genital mutilation and sex trafficking, have captured much international attention and resources in the 1990s and 2000s. Much like the campaign against domestic violence, all these campaigns, at one time or another, have been driven by concerns other than realizing women’s full sexual autonomy.
More significantly, Russia’s gender violence politics is not at the stage of granting women’s full autonomy, but at an earlier stage of recognizing that gender violence constitutes bodily harm, a violation of women’s right to bodily integrity. The politics of institutionalizing a norm of bodily integrity for these gender violence issues is mostly the same. In contrast to Sundstrom (2006), the analysis in chapter 4 shows that sexual harassment too is primarily cast by activists as an issue of bodily harm because of Russia’s history of regulating sexual harassment as a violent crime. Overall, since these gender violence issues operate in mostly the same way in this period of Russia’s history, the assumption of similarity is warranted.