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Miss Russia says sexual harassment doesn’t happen in her country because of Vladimir Putin

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Miss Russia Polina Popova and runner up Ksenia Alexandrova claim that sexual harassment and assault simply don’t happen in their country, for one very specific reason: President Vladimir Putin.

According to The Moscow Times, at a press conference for Russia’s Miss World and Miss Universe representatives this week, the pageant winner and Alexandrova claimed that instances of harassment like the recent slew of allegations against American movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are effectively nonexistent in Russia because of Putin’s “policy,” although neither woman specified to which policy they were referring.

“I believe that these situations cannot happen in Russia, and for that we have to thank Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and his policy,” Alexandrova said, speaking with independent Russian television channel Dozhd. “It’s very rare that you hear about such cases in our country and I’m very happy about that.”

Popova added, “I think everything depends on the woman. I don’t know how Angelina Jolie [one of Weinstein’s alleged victims] acted in that instance — [Weinstein] is her employer after all.” Popova also claimed she had “never been the target of untoward advances from men,” according to The Moscow Times.

Weinstein has been accused by more than a dozen women of multiple instances of alleged sexual harassment or assault, stemming back nearly three decades, according to The New York Times. A representative for the movie mogul has stated that Weinstein categorically denies all allegations of non-consensual sexual contact.

In reality, Russia’s sexual assault and harassment problem is much worse that Popova and Alexandrova let on. As Newsweek’s Julia Glum notes,

Violence against women is rampant there: Government officials estimate that 14,000 domestic abuse victims are killed every year, and in 2013 Russian courts convicted more than 4,700 people of rape. Earlier this year, after a girl went on TV to talk about her rape, the Russian branch of Burger King used her likeness in an ad to promote cheeseburgers. The ad was taken down after a social media outcry.

In addition, the country’s only sexual assault center — the Sisters Center, which is based in Moscow and “provides psychological support to the survivors of sexual violence,” according to its Generosity.com fundraising page — is massively underfunded and burdened by the social stigma that plagues victims looking to speak out.

“We were close to shutting the center down several months ago,” center director Maria Mokhova told The Moscow Times. “No one was being paid, and only a few of us were still working. If anyone had come and told us to leave the office, we would have left. We had no more strength to fight.”

As The Moscow Times noted, Sisters Center has applied twice for government funding, but was denied both times.

The lack of funding has stoked concerns among staffers who recognize that, while the total number of people convicted of rape in 2014 topped 4,700, actual victim figures are undoubtedly much higher. According to Mokhova, “only five percent of sexual assault victims who call the center take their cases to court.”

Compounding the problem, in February, Putin signed legislation that effectively decriminalized domestic violence. Under the new law, a man who abuses his spouse or children receives a fine and a warning not to do it again. Only if he repeats the offense does he risk criminal charges.

“The law mentions one blow, but with one blow, you can kill someone,” one mother told NPR’s Lucian Kim shortly after the legislation was passed.

In a January 2008 interview, Lt. Gen Mikhail Artamoshkin, a representative for Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, estimated that between 2003 and 2008, approximately two-thirds of all premeditated murders and grievous injuries were committed by a family member and considered domestic cases. However, Reuters reported in February this year that the full scale of Russia’s domestic violence problem is largely unknown as the government has no official data on the subject.

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