In Kazakhstan, it is not easy to break the vicious cycle of domestic violence. The case of one Almaty woman, who did not want her name used, underscores the difficulties faced by women trying to escape abusive relationships. The woman lived in fear, and was at first afraid to file for divorce. Her abusive husband had people follow her, watching her every move. Finally, she decided to call a local crisis center, and with the help of local officials trained under an innovative program developed at Florida State University, she was able to change her future.
The crisis center contacted the Almaty police domestic violence unit, which helped protect the woman as she went through the divorce procedure. For example, a police officer accompanied the woman to her divorce hearing. After the divorce was finalized, authorities assisted the woman with finding a temporary residence at the shelter run by the Crisis Center Podrugy.
Since 1998, over 1,000 women have applied for assistance from the Crisis Center "Podrugy" (which means "friends" in Russian) each year. As in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, domestic violence remains a problem in the Republic. [For background, see EurasiaNet's recaps archive.] In Almaty, a city of roughly 1.5 million people, about 1,000 domestic violence cases were recorded in 2000. However, some experts say that instances of abuse are vastly underreported.
The U.S. Department of State is providing aid to Kazakhstan designed to reduce cases of domestic violence. In the past year, a State Department-funded project directed by three doctors -- Edward Snajdr, Dmitry Vyortkin, and Evelyn Zellerer of Florida State University has developed a curriculum to promote a better response by law enforcement officers to domestic violence. The curriculum has since been used once to train small groups of Kazakhstani police, and is being used again in a nationwide training program this spring. The Kazakhstani domestic violence project has also acted to assist crisis center workers and women's non-governmental organizations.
The initial call to train officers against domestic violence came in 1996, when the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) began to accept grant proposals in this area. In 1999, INL accepted a bid to improve the response to domestic violence in Kazakhstan from Florida State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Snajdr, Vyortkin, and Zellerer, the three professors who adapted this grant for implementation in Kazakhstan, are now working to enhance their program for reducing domestic violence. Their goal is to train Kazakhstani police officers to deal with situations involving spousal abuse. They also hope to improve the response of crisis centers not only to women, but to families affected by domestic violence.
To accomplish these goals, the team first established contact with American police officers and crisis center workers in the state of Florida in 1999. With the help of project collaborators in Kazakhstan, the professors then set up a series of workshops in Almaty. The FSU team, along with U.S. domestic violence experts, visited Kazakhstan to organize a conference on women's issues.
Subsequently, several Kazakhstani partners, including Nadezha Gladyr, the Director of the Crisis Center Podrugy, visited Florida to observe the training of American police officers and crisis center operations. Snajdr, Vyortkin and Zellerer are scheduled to return to Kazakhstan this spring to conduct follow-up training.
"The whole idea of a domestic violence unit is a new concept instituted by the Kazakhstani government," said Snajdr. "As late as the fall of 1999, [the Kazakhstani government] created structures specifically to deal with domestic violence. Prior to that, they didn't have any special units."
Snajdr and his colleagues adapted the project to introduce domestic violence training to the police force. "Victim services was [initially] a grassroots effort by women in Kazakhstan," said Snajdr. Although the area of victim services is now gaining support and is visible to the government, Snajdr seeks to work on a wider range of issues.
"The State Department provides training and technical assistance in the form of contact with experts in the U.S., exchanging information and then creating a training curriculum [for people in] Kazakhstan," said Snajdr. "Our explicit goal is to improve relationships between NGOs and police and law enforcement agencies."
Vyortkin, a native of Kazakhstan who serves as the project's international relations expert, admits that one of the difficulties of dealing with domestic violence in Kazakhstan is that there are no laws on domestic violence in the country's legislative code. But Vyortkin and the Florida team have found a way to work around this problem.
"A lot of criminal and administrative code laws can be applied when it comes to a domestic violence situation. The local police didn't used to think that these laws were applicable, but they are. For example, if domestic violence involves battery, then you can charge the offender with battery," said Vyortkin.
Vyortkin and the rest of the team found their Kazakh counterparts enthusiastic toward adapting an American approach to Kazakhstani needs. "We [the American team] made a careful assessment of their needs and laws. There was no resistance to [our attempt to create a specifically Kazakhstani] curriculum," said Vyortkin. "We managed to find a middle ground toward which they were extremely interested, enthusiastic, and receptive."
The Kazakhstani visitors to the United States said they benefited from their exposure to American legal procedures, as well as the training sessions, adding that they seek to use these as models for instruction efforts in their country.
Aizhan Mukhtarova, the Vice President of the School of Law in Almaty, was given an explanation of injunctions, court orders that prohibit one party from coming near another, by a Tallahassee Circuit Judge. After hearing the description of this legal ruling, Mukhtarova said she would like Kazakhstani courts to begin using injunctions. "We don't have as many legal procedures," Mukhtarova said.
Gulsara Tlenchieva, a women's activist and another Kazakhstani visitor to Florida, found that women had much more freedom in the United States to bring charges against men in court. "In my country, we are supposed to be able to [do that], but in reality it's very different," said Tlenchieva. "The problem is that we need a (third-party) witness, and also wives are afraid to bring charges against their husbands. But things will change."
There remains much more to accomplish in Kazakhstan. Not all that needs to be done lies in the area of training. "Kazakhstan has a Soviet past, but a national Muslim identity. This makes the problem [of Americans instructing Kazakhstanis] extremely complicated," said Vyortkin.
Some of the obstacles come in the form of family relations, notes Snajdr. "There are cultural differences that need to be addressed in the context of Kazakhstani traditional life. For example, often a mother-in-law will be an abuser. She will beat her daughter-in-law in an attempt to punish her and discipline her," said Snajdr. "The dynamics of domestic violence abuse [is such that] in these situations
Jessica Zimmer is a freelance journalist. She wishes to express special thanks to the Tallahassee Democrat and Knight Ridder Newspapers as a source for her article.
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