You are mine

Mary Gelman



«You are mine» is a series of stories of Russian women who endured domestic partner violence. These stories are about power and control of one person over another. They are about difficulties of recognizing violence and to resist it on personal and government level. Because violence is not only when somebody smashes your face with fist, it is also when somebody ignores, controls, or neglects your will. This series shows that one of important reasons of violence is imbalance of power, and not orientation, age or education.

Russia has a high level of violence against women. According to statistics of the Interior Ministry of Russian Federation, in 2013 women comprised 91 % of overall number of victims of domestic violence crime. Women suffer from grievous bodily harm 8 times more often than man. Problem of violence has a mass character. But the government does not recognize the problem. Russia does not have the law against domestic violence. In July, the President Vladimir Putin signed the law project about partial decriminalization of battery and payment of alimonies.

Every year we have fewer laws protecting women.

But women cannot find support not only from the government but also from society, friends, and relatives. Believes that «If he beats you, he loves you» and «That’s your own fault» are widely spread in society. It leads to stigmatization of women, who endured violence. As the result, the majority of women have to conceal this traumatizing experience.

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  • Tatyana, 26, Saint Petersburg.
    «At first, it seemed that he just cares about me, «Do not walk alone because something might happen to you». But then the guardianship became tougher and everything increased.
    He forbad me to communicate with friends and decided everything for me. Once he figured out that I needed to go to Ukraine, and just bought me a ticket –my opinion did not interest him.
    I remember when he hit me for the first time. I was preparing dinner in the kitchen and left my phone in the room, so I did not hear his call. In the evening he went home, threw me in the face a bunch of keys and shouted: «Why did you not answer the phone?! I was worried!». Beatings repeated. If I argued, he found justifications to everything, and in the end I had to apologize. I apologized that I was in a bad mood or looked bad and that it provoked him. He called me a fat bitch and was angry because of the fact that I did not wear a mini skirt and heels in our communal apartment.
    Then he stopped looking for excuses – he would wake me up by hitting me in the back, because I breathe too loudly in my sleep.
    When I decided to leave, he locked me in an apartment for a day and followed my every step – I went to the bathroom under his guard. He beat me in the face and shouted, «You are a beast, and you ruined my life. Don’t go. I love you». I just did not know that a different life was possible. My uncle beat my aunt and a neighbor ran after his wife with an ax - I have witnessed this since childhood.
    Now I'm married and I realized that love is not passion, for example, when we say «I cannot live without you» or «you will be mine». Love starts with respect».

  • Lisa, 25, Saint Petersburg.
    «He took care of me nicely, and after 3 weeks offered to live together – with his parents and severely ailing grandmother. I doubted, but he rebuked – «So you do not love me and you do not see us together in the future». I moved in, and the relationship became unbearable.
    He demanded reports on where I go, with whom, the exact arrival and departure times – even if I just went to the store for milk. He read my correspondence with my mother, where I complained about the horrible living conditions. Then he began to isolate me from communicating with my family and friends; conversations with new people were permitted only in his presence. He wanted to control everything.
    I felt physically threatened. He was hitting with full force into the wall next to my face and destroyed furniture. He was so strong, that he opened the door communication simply by pulling the door handle. He did not need any sexual consent: my refusal to have sex was not something to argue about.
    He said that I was an ugly and stupid. Because of this my self-esteem became low and I fell into an emotional coma.
    One day I went to St. Petersburg to relax and remained there; I abrupt all contacts with him. My friends’ support helped me to get out of this relationship. Without them I would not cope».

  • Natasha, 30, Saint Petersburg.
    «I have just moved in with him; I did not work and was busy with my daughter’s affairs trying to enroll her into a kindergarten on Vasilyevsky Island. Once he came home from work drunk as a skunk; he was drunk and aggressive. He turned on the music so loud that all our neighbors began to knock on the walls. My daughter woke up and started crying. I asked him to turn the volume down but he yelled –
    «I don’t need your headphones!», «Who are you?», and «This is my house and I will do whatever I want!»
    He came in to the kid’s bedroom and got a child out of her bed. I begged him to leave the child alone and talk to me in the other room. Then he grabbed my neck, pushed me against the wall, lifted me up, and started suffocating me. The daughter jumped out of bed; it was difficult for me to breathe but I tried to smile and repeated – «don’t be afraid, it is just a game».
    Next I remember me sitting on the floor and the daughter crying next to me. He yelled that he would throw us from the balcony.
    In the morning, when he fell asleep, we escaped from his house – I took only passport, birth certificate and two children panties with me. I stayed alone in a strange city with no belongings, no money, no shelter and with a little baby. I couldn’t do anything. 1.5 Months we lived in various places and only 4 months later I could express some emotions.
    He sold my jewelry, destroyed my documents and belongings. I had to begin my life from scratch».

  • Lena, 24, Saint-Petersburg.
    «There was a period in my life when I was in a relationship with a person who hit me. In the beginning
    everything was beautiful: flowers, courtship, emotional declarations of love. Then he started reading my diary, going through my things, looking through my messages. I felt that he saw me as an object that fully belonged to him rather than a person who has a personal space, life and rights. At some point I stood up to him and said that I’m tired of feeling this pressure. That’s when he slapped me for the first time. A couple of days later he came to me on the verge of tears and for hours begged me to forgive him. Then it happened again. The only difference is that this time he hit me so hard I fell to the floor. In that moment I seriously thought that I'm in danger. After that incident I decided to never communicate with him again.
    When he hit me, I felt tremendous pain that left me breathless, and impotent rage, but didn’t end our relationship. Why? Honestly, I didn’t know how I should react. No one ever spoke about violence in my school or in my family. Violence was taboo in my circle.
    I think that if we want to change this, it’s important to start discussing these issues in our everyday life.
    To call out people who blame victims. We shouldn't underestimate the importance of such things.
    Women who find themselves in these situations are in desperate need of support. And the public
    opinion can drastically change — in one direction or the other».

  • Alyona, 23, Moscow.
    «It was my first mutual love, the ideal relationship. Three months later, he cheated on me and tried to hide it but I knew everything. He crawled on his knees; I felt sorry for him and was afraid of being alone, so I forgave him. Then a pity and fear of loneliness made me forgive the beatings.
    He hated it when I was running late. It did not matter if I was late for 5, 10, 20 minutes – he was mad and he could refuse talking to me for hours afterwards.
    One day, I was late for 15 minutes – I walked with friends and lost a track of time. He was waiting for me in the subway with a straight face. I only had time to say, «Do not be offended», - he pulled me to the wall, grabbed by the throat and began to yell. I gasped and tried to push him away. By hitting me he cut my lip in blood.
    Unconsciously I broke away and ran to the end of the hall screaming, «Help!». He ran after me. A young patrol grabbed him and would not let me until the train pulled up. I came home and stopped responding to his calls. Thoughts of public disgrace opened my eyes.
    If a person requires you to change, does not trust you, watches you, prohibits something – these are disturbing symptoms. If he hit you – just run away. Seriously. This is not the end. It has never ended that way».

  • Sasha, 20, Saint Petersburg.
    «I was dating a transgender – a woman who wanted to become a man. He attempted to show that he is a real man – in the way he understood it. In public, he tried to look like a gentleman by holding doors and so on. But when we stayed alone he became rude.
    He publicly molested me although I showed that I did not want it. Several times, he has paid for the tea and then said, «I express the love in money, and you be so kind and pay by sex». He forced me to have sex and did not pay attention when I said «no» and called for neighbors’ help. He beat my head on the wall, hit me in the face, I was covered in bruises.
    He had to prove that he is the chief, he's a man.
    Once I told him that I wanted to apply for a university, he began to dissuade me. He wanted to rent an apartment so would sit at home and waited for him; of course, I refused. Then he «punished» me - locked me up for six days in a room without food and water, so I would think this over. I thought I would go mad.
    He said that he loved me and could not live without me. He told me that apart from him no one will protect me and nobody will ever love me. He fenced me from socializing with friends – I became isolated and did not understand anything. I blamed only myself. I thought that something was wrong with me».

  • Nastya, 20, Moscow.
    «I still do not quite understand whether this was violence. I was not beaten up or insulted in plain text. All his actions were neutral from an ethical point of view - I suffered from them only because I was in love with him.
    He was my first. I said that I did not want sex but he continued. I lay beneath him as if I was dead, and he asked me, «Why are you making such a face? All men know that all women feel pain. I do not need a reminder «. He refused to use a condom. Then I said to myself for a long time that it was nothing serious. But his phrase hurt me even more when he said in the morning: «All women have terribly stupid faces».
    I was terribly worried so this week I lost four kilograms. Finally, I broke down and decided to clarify the status of our relationship. It turned out that we cannot date, because I am too difficult. But I was dear to his heart and he felt bored with everybody else.
    We have a dispute about feminism: he asked me to explain who oppresses women. I told him, and in response, I have heard all the usual stupid sexist comments. After that he stopped communicating with me – he stopped responding to my messages and greeting me. He removed me from friends with no explanation. It might seem from the outside that that was nothing serious but at the time I was in a terrible condition. For the first time in my life I could not eat or sleep, I self-harmed almost every day».

  • Zhanna, 28, Saint Petersburg.
    «She oppressed and manipulated me so I would stop seeing my friends. For example, I am going to a meeting, and suddenly she starts a fight over a random thing so my mood is going down and I don’t go anywhere. Or she makes such a face expression that I feel guilty. Eventually, we spent all time together and my friends became estranged.
    Physical violence also had place – she grabbed my hands and hold them if I tried to escape. Also we played in one roller-derby team – it is a contact sport; people bump into each other, do blocking although it is often prohibited. And so she did this to me anyways – she beat me despite breaking the rules just to hurt me. She used to say after: «If nobody saw it then nothing happened».
    If I tried to discuss our relationships she responded aggressively like «it only seems that way to you», «I am just like that and nothing can be done» or she explained me that it was my fault. I understood that our relationships are unhealthy but I kept them. I thought: «maybe it just seems that way to me» or «perhaps she will change».
    By now I’ve learned to distinguish manipulation – it is always based on the same models. I began to defend my borders more roughly and be more careful choosing my girlfriends».

  • Anna, 18, Moscow.
    «He hit me in the face, extinguished his cigarettes on me – I have 12 scars and burns. He raped me sadistically; he left bruisers on my neck and wrists so I would not wear revealing clothes.
    He controlled me – read text messages on my phone, on social networks, and on my email. He demanded detailed reports on where I am going and with whom; he asked what time I will arrive there and when I will be home. If I was behind my schedule he lost his temper, yelled and beat me. He called it care – «I must know everything about you because I love you».
    I understood that I need to break up with him but he made me stay using blackmailing. He knew that my friend had problems and threatened to turn her in to the police if I leave. Every Saturday I arrived at his house at 8 pm – he beat and raped me. His justification to this nightmare was that he loved me. Once I contradicted him and he hit me. I was taken to the hospital from his home with a traumatic brain injury. Now I am afraid of any serious relationships».