Justice upstaged: angry public targets child molesters

A suspected child molester in Russia’s Far East was released without charge, then almost lynched by an angry crowd. The case is one of many in which people feel the authorities have failed to act on crimes against those who need the most protection.

Natalia is the mother of an underage victim. She says the thought of avenging her daughter’s abuse has been haunting her for months.

“I even thought of buying a pistol and shooting him myself. I simply don’t know how else to protect my family. We live on the ground floor with curtains constantly drawn. I go to work every day sick with fear for my daughter,” she says.

It was hard for Natalia to admit she had trusted someone who harmed her child. She brought the man into the house as a common-law husband to live side by side with them for more than nine years.

“My daughter told me he threw a stray cat from the roof and said he’d do the same to her if she ever confided in me about the things he was doing to her,” she says.

When Natalia finally managed to get things to the court, the jury acquitted the man, who she says is now after her family, hungry for revenge.

Natalia’s experience is just one example of many.

In a recent controversial case in the Far Eastern Amur Region, a man suspected of raping a seven-year-old girl was released without charge.

Only after an enraged crowd nearly lynched the man did police launch a fully-fledged investigation into the case and record a confession. Alexey Zhititsky, the suspect, told police:

“I pulled off her knickers and she started crying. I squeezed her neck and pressed her into the ground. It only took a couple of minutes. Then I told her to go home and tell no one.”

Authorities have disciplined the original investigating officer and a police officer, while a probe into alleged negligence linked to this case is underway against him and two other officers of the law.

“The worst that’s happened here is the mother was treated like a football. She was kicked around from office to office. A tragedy had happened to her, she didn’t know what to do, but no one wanted to even talk to her, let alone accept her statement,” says Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer and member of the Russian Public Chamber, a civic advisory body.

Russian authorities have long declared a fight against the sexual abuse of minors, but results seem to have been meager, with estimates claiming thousands still fall victim.

In an attempt to put things right, some activists have started taking matters into their own hands, targeting people they suspect of being sexual predators with online smearing campaigns.

They go online pretending to be an underage boy or girl and set up meetings with people who admit to preferring minors. Then they film their faces and expose them on the web.

“We are simply a group of people who decided to fight this evil in our own way because our families live in this city. Our children walk these parks and we don’t want them to ever meet those perverts,” says Daniil, one of the anti-pedophilia activists.

The vigilantes believe they act within the law, but many would say they go over the edge.

Volunteers tracking pedophiles online say most people will sign off when they learn the person they are talking to is underage. But activists say roughly one out of 100 contacts is certain to be looking for easy prey.

Currently, the maximum sentence for child sex offenses in Russia is 20 years in prison. An amendment to the law is meant to introduce tougher penalties, including life in prison and conditional chemical castration.

But until the changes are implemented and proven to be effective, the activists say they will continue with their controversial campaign.