Abuse in the Military – Gender Aspects


The example of Russia

Olga Miryasova

The reference. There are two types of military service in Russia – professional army and obligatory military service. About 1,1 millions soldiers and officers serve in Russian army, about 30% of men in Russia pass through obligatory military service during their life. Until 1.01.2007 the call-up period was 2 years. Now it’s 1,5 years and it will be 1 year from 1.01.2008. Call-up age in Russia is from 18 to 27 years old.

“Dedovschina” (hazing) is one of the most common forms of violence in Russian army. It is practiced by older soldiers of obligatory military service regarding younger soldiers. It’s a set of painful, humiliating rituals, exploitation, extortion, beating for insubordination. All soldiers divide into groups (usually 4) according to the time of service. Each person moves from the lowest status to the highest one during the service and gets the same rights to beat and abuse young soldiers in the end of military service.

“Dedovschina” exists in the most of military units, it’s the reason for huge number of victims. In addition to «dedovschina» army officers use violence against soldiers. Officers use also slave labour of soldiers and professional soldiers from elite units abuse soldiers from others units or soldiers from obligatory military service.

Sociologists and anthropologies note that practices of abuse (hazing) as initiation are spread in many male, closed communities and associations (sport teams, classes in boarding school, etc.). The particular qualities of Russian “volunteer army” unit as male group are 1) it’s forbidden to leave, 2) it’s closed for control of society and for prevention of hazing, 3) hazing is used by officers for control, 4) a lot of people get injuries or die.

Army’s units look like criminal communities: 1) strict hierarchy, 2) older, higher people have absolute power under the subordinate ones, 3) rituals, ceremonials, language, folklore, 4) rule of traditions, informal norms.

Attitude toward the army in Russia

  • “Army brings up the real men.” Part of society believes that army is important part of male socialization. As the result the violence, domination, cruelty, brutality became the piece of man image.
  • “Poor soldier!” A lot of people know about horrible situation in army and try to keep themselves and relatives from the military service. Majority thinks that “state, society need army” but other people should serve or we should move to professional army.

Results of “dedovschina”. Official statistics

  • 33 men were killed in 2006 because of “dedovschina”, 766 died for other reason (maybe also because of “dedovschina”)
  • 6700 men were injured in 2006 because of “dedovschina”
  • 68 men committed suicide for first 4 months in 2007 (it’s 26% more as compared with 2006)
    Rapes, compulsion to prostitution, slave labour, psychological trauma, illnesses.

In reply to “dedovschina” men try to escape the military service

  • A lot of men try to evasion the military service by moving to another region, simulation, buying the medical certificate about illness, entrance to university, etc. 18 000 men in 2005 escape the military service and are considered criminals (official statistics)
  • Corruption – the price of liberation from army is from $1000 to $5000 depends of region (often it’s only temporary liberation – for 3 years for example)
  • Self-mutilation if men can’t pay for illegal liberation
  • 20 000 - 30 000 escaped from obligatory military service in 2005 according to statistics of NGO and 4 000 escapes according to official statistics

Women by the military’ eyes

  • “Mother”. Image of elderly woman who is respected if she cares about men in family
  • “Sweetheart” or “wife”. These women are respected if they keep themselves from sexual contacts during the time when the is in military service
  • “Girlfriend”, “mistress”. The woman who is ready for sexual relations without any obligations of man, she’s not respected but play important role
  • The army by the women’ eyes

    • “The duty”. Part of women feel the internal conflict between the idea about importance the military service for society (“civic duty”), importance of male socialization and fear for the health and life of relatives
    • “The way for mobility”. Poor and low educated women suppose that army is the way to raise social status for their children in the future
    • “The danger place”. A lot of mothers try to keep their sons from military service because of “dedovschina"

    Gender aspects

    Traditionally women are responsible for health and life of family members, especially children, so there is the conflict with state about the treatment of young men in the military service. The army is closed institute and it is impossible to influence the situation. The “male fields” are production, management, protection and politics.

    “Union of Soldier's Mothers Committees”

    Exist from 1993. Their slogan is “Mothers! Do you use all facilities to keep your sons from the conscription slavery?”. Committees are active in many regions of Russia. The most of activists are women. Committees are quite successful because the society recognizes the right of the mother to care about children and see the problem as very relevant.

    War in Chechnya

    A part of men served in Chechnya and participated in operations. The level of violence was greater there because the crimes regarding the local inhabitants: beating, murders, rapes, robberies, etc. and the situation of military operations as such. The image of militarist masculinity in consciousness of these people is even more brightly.

    “Feedback system”

    • The military service plays important role in the men’ socialization. About 30% men pass through the army and military ministries of high rank plan to increase this number.
    • The children from poor, uneducated families from small towns and countryside go to military service first of all. Many of them are young men which are not formed as personalities, have emotional and psychological problems based on the families difficulties (alcoholism, neurosis of parents because of fighting for survival). They are not ready for subject-subject relationships, have low self-esteem and got used to solve problems by violence.
    • Part of them are ready to take part in such style of relations as “dedovschina” (depersonalization of young soldiers, taking them as objects and means to get some profit, disparagement), the second part are socialized step by step and the third part of men can’t adapt itself and run away, are killed or commit suicide.
    • The adopted model of behavior (“male model”) men bring into society after army and practice in daily life (in particular in children education).


    1. Military service and “dedovschina” promote reproduction of patriarchal ideas about “male” and “female”

    2. “Male” is connected with physical strength, domination and violence (and submission to the state institutions)

    3. Military service cultivates the emotional insanity, habit to be object and use others as objects, avoid the responsibility, submit to the collective and leader

    4. Ex-military believe that military service marks them out as particular group which they consider higher-than-normal (“civils”). But low self-esteem and psychological traumas are hidden behind this idea.

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