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Russian Woman's #MeToo Story Highlights Fear Of Speaking Out

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- On January 3, Russian freelance journalist Yekaterina Fedorova hit send on a Facebook post that sent shockwaves through this Far Eastern port city and across the country. The post thrust her into the middle of a #MeToo controversy magnified by Russia's predominantly macho, patriarchal society.

"On October 13, I was raped," her post began. "I have known the man who did it since 2015."

The perpetrator, Fedorova alleged, was Aleksei Migunov, the co-founder of Vladivostok's powerful PrimaMedia group.

In a Facebook post of his own on January 6, Migunov denied the allegations, saying "there was no rape and no violence." He claimed he had "received several messages from people who had been victims of contact with Yekaterina but who managed to buy their way out with money." Migunov also said he had suspended his work for PrimaMedia and in public organizations to avoid "involving the company or organization in this personal episode."

"Men," he added, "be alert -- you might be used. Dear women, you are already being used."

Migunov declined RFE/RL's request for an interview about the allegations.

'It Hurt A Lot'

Fedorova, who has worked as a freelance correspondent for the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service since November, described meeting with Migunov that October evening at a cafe near her home. After the two drank for a while, she said, he insisted on walking her home. When they reached her building, he began physically assaulting her, she alleged.

"I asked him to stop, but he continued," she wrote. "I told him he was hurting me. He asked me where and then hit me harder in the same spot, laughing. I asked him to finish.... I told him he was fine but that I felt bad and couldn't get excited. Please, stop. Please, go away. But he didn't leave and continued to assault me."

She acknowledged that she was drunk and said her reaction was "inadequate." But she was adamant that she said "no" clearly and that he understood her and knew she was in pain.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Fedorova said Migunov was in her apartment for about three hours.

"He never punched me," she said. "He never kicked me. But he pulled my hair and choked me. He restrained my arms and bit my face -- it hurt a lot. He was simply biting into my face, my neck, shoulders, breast. Wherever he could."

She described repeatedly pleading for the ordeal to end.

In her RFE/RL interview, she said she and Migunov had known each other for around three years, describing a series of encounters that included a request for help getting a job, a declined invitation to a country house, and an offer of help from a man "much higher in status than me," with "no vulgar jokes [or] vile hints."

Fedorova had initiated the meeting in October, she suggested, in hopes of asking him for a loan.

Fedorova did not report the incident to the police.

Blaming The Victim

"Rape is one of the most latent crimes," Vladivostok lawyer Mari Davtyan told RFE/RL. "Women who are assaulted often do not go to the police for many reasons. The first is shame. These days, as in the past, Russian society tries to place responsibility for such crimes on the victim. 'You are to blame,' is the most common comment in such cases. 'You didn't act properly.' 'You didn't speak out.' 'You did something wrong.' And so on. Women know that, in the eyes of the public, she will be blamed for what happened and shame becomes an obstacle to reporting it to the police."

Davtyan recalled that in March 2018, three female journalists accused Russian Duma Deputy Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment. But a Duma committee cleared him of any wrongdoing and Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said female journalists should change their jobs if they don't like the behavior of deputies.

Deputy Tamara Pletnyova expressed a similar opinion.

"I would like to say that these girl journalists should look more decent, put clothes on themselves when entering a state building, instead of having their belly buttons naked," Pletnyova said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. "Volodin is right and I fully support him. If they are scared and are offended, they should not come here."

According to most recent available government figures, 3,900 rapes or attempted rapes were registered in 2015, leading to 2,700 convictions. Activists, however, estimate that only about 10 percent of victims approach the police and that police only register about 20 percent of those reports.

The charges against Slutsky produced a small online movement using the hashtag I Am Not Afraid To Speak that was similar to the #MeToo movement in the West.

Fedorova said she decided to go public with her story after reading a Facebook post by the wife of a man she once knew. On January 2, the woman, also a journalist, posted a photo of herself with facial bruises, saying that her husband had beaten and choked her. Her post was quickly inundated with comments from people who expressed disbelief or sought to blame the wife. The comments aroused strong feelings of guilt in Fedorova.

'Unjust And Cruel World'

In 2015, Fedorova said, she had her own encounter with the same man. She said she was fired from her job after reporting that he had threatened to rape her.

"When I reported [him] for threatening me in 2015, I was fired within an hour," she told RFE/RL. "I was sobbing -- what an unjust and cruel world. It is awful, but what can I do? Nothing. He didn't rape me. He didn't touch me. He just frightened me by saying that he would rape me."

"I could hardly breathe because of my feeling of guilt that I hadn't said anything to anyone about [the threat] and now people weren't believing his wife," she said. "If my story had been made public, maybe this wouldn't have happened to her. Or maybe people would believe her now. I wrote a comment supporting her, saying, 'Yes, [he] is capable of this.' And when I wrote about [that woman's husband], I understood that I had no moral right to hide what Migunov had done to me."

Her motive, she said, was to warn potential future victims.

"You can talk as much as you want about how I am to blame and how I did everything to get myself raped, but if I had had even the slightest hint from some woman that he had done something like this to her,... that he had hurt her, I would never have gone anywhere with him," she said. "I don't care if he is punished or not punished. I don't want anything from him. I don't care where he is or what he is doing. But I want women to know what he is capable of."

Fedorovna said she continues to deal with the trauma of the incident.

"I am seeing a psychiatrist," she told RFE/RL. "I have a prescription for antidepressants and tranquilizers to help me sleep. But I still can't be alone in my apartment. For the last two months I have either had someone stay here or I spent the night somewhere else. I can only be at home during the day. I don't go out anywhere in the evening anymore.... I try to work so much that I don't think about what happened."

As she wrote at the end of her Facebook revelation: "I am not OK."
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