Tatiana Gutsu’s confession that she was raped by Vitaly Scherbo in 1991 became one of the hottest news topics in the FSU countries (and especially in Russia), but it’s met with tremendous backlash from the readers. In addition, some of her former teammates and coaches who knew her felt necessary to give their opinion to the press and do some victim-blaming.
If you find it surprising, you don’t know much about rape culture in Russia.
If you just look at the official statistics, Russia seems to have rape under control. For example, in 2015, only 3,900 rapes resulted in opened police cases in Russia and out of those case 2,700 rapists were convicted. And there was a decrease in reports compared to 2014 when 4,200 rape cases were opened. Does it mean that rape rate is going down there?
Not really. First of all, only a fraction of the rapes gets reported. A teeny-tiny fraction. Compare these 3,900 cases to another number – 89,000 is the average number of reported cases in the U.S., the country with the population about twice the size of Russia. And even in the U.S. about 60% of the rapes never get reported. If a Russian woman musters the courage to go to the police, there’s no guarantee that they will open a case – only about 1 in 3 reported rapes results in opening a case. Women are often not believed or “do not have sufficient evidence” – for example, they took a shower after the rape or some time has passed since it happened. In addition, even if the case is opened, women have to prove that they physically resisted. Saying no is not enough. And what if they resisted too effectively? Tatyana Andreeva, a 20-year-old national weightlifting champion, was roofied and raped in 2012. In an attempt to protect herself, she grabbed a knife and stabbed the rapist. He died, she’s still in prison.
According to the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 44% of Russians think that rape victims bring it on themselves, while 50% think that rapes shouldn’t be talked about because it damages the family values. This is perfectly illustrated by multiple comments about Gutsu: people say that this kind of news shouldn’t be reported or talked about because it tarnishes the sport. Lydia Ivanova even called discussing the matter “improper”. Many others question why Gutsu only decided to come forward now, likely unaware of the fact that it often takes rape victims years to be able to talk about what happened. These comments kind of prove the point – rape victims in the Russian culture will be blamed, shamed and attacked, so no wonder a 15-year-old girl was afraid to talk. A Belorussian coach who worked with the national team at the time claimed that Scherbo couldn’t have raped Gutsu because she wasn’t pretty – as if rape was ever about attraction and not about power.