Women Reporters Accuse a Prominent Russian Lawmaker of Sexual Harassment, but His Colleagues Stand by Him

Leonid Slutsky, a prominent Russian lawmaker, accused of sexual harassment by several women reporters. Photo by A. Savin, Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0

Just days before March 8, International Women's Day, at least three Russian women reporters accused Leonid Slutsky (pronounced as Sloo-tski), a populist parliament member, of sexual harassment. Yet, most of his political colleagues, including some women, are rallying behind him. 

Leonid Slutsky, a member of the State Duma (the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament), is a veteran legislator, currently serving his fifth consecutive term in the Duma as a member of the rightwing populist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). 

Slutsky currently chairs the parliament’s international affairs committee and served as deputy head of Russia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) until Russia’s membership in the assembly was revoked in 2016.

Daria Zhuk of the independent TV Dozhd, Ekaterina Kotrikadze of RTVi, and Farida Rustamova (BBC Russian) have all come out publicly as Slutsky’s victims: 

BBC Russia's reporter Farida Rustamova openly accused Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's Leonid Slutsky, the head of international relations committee, of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment allegations trigger support from colleagues 

Slutsky allegedly invited reporters into his office in the Duma under the pretext of giving an interview and instead made inappropriate remarks or physical contact. BBC Russian’s Farida Rustamova published a transcript of her interview with Slutsky during which, she says, he put his hand on her groin, against her panicked protests which were captured on record. 

Slutsky initially dismissed the accusations against him as an “orchestrated smear campaign and a provocation.” Yet, he posted what appears to be an apology in references to the accusations without mentioning names or specific details: 

Дорогие женщины!
От всей души поздравляю вас с Международным женским днем! Желаю крепкого здоровья, душевных сил и простого человеческого счастья!
Пользуясь случаем, хотел бы попросить прощения у тех из вас, кому когда-либо вольно или невольно причинил любые переживания. Поверьте, не по злому умыслу.
Удачи и любви вам и вашим близким!
Искренне ваш,
Леонид Слуцкий

Dear women!
From my heart I congratulate you on the International Women's Day! I wish you good health, spiritual strength, and simple human happiness!
I would also like to use this opportunity to apologize to those of you whom I have ever intentionally or unintentionally caused any distress. Believe me, I wasn’t acting out of malice.
Good luck and love to you and your loved ones!
Yours sincerely,
Leonid Slutsky

Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin publicly supported Slutsky and chastised women reporters at a meeting with them:

‘So the Duma is a dangerous workplace for you? If it is, change your profession, look for another job. Understand?’ That’s what Volodin said about [Duma member] Slutsky’s harassment of women reporters. It’s a shame that such a person heads the Russian parliament. Maybe we should change Volodin instead?

Duma vice chairman Igor Lebedev, son of LDPR's leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, publicly threatened the reporters:

Yesterday's allegations by TV Dozhd's reporters against State Duma lawmaker Slutsky is a gross violation of ethics, criminal law and simply an insult. Our party will raise the issue of stripping these journalists of their Duma credentials.

Voices of dissent and solidarity in the Duma and beyond

In Duma, where 70 out of 450 seats are occupied by women, only Oksana Pushkina explicitly condemned his actions. If his guilt is proved, she said, Slutsky’s accusers should push for a resolution. She also lamented the lack of anti-harassment laws in Russia and promised to propose a bill to address that.

Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman known for her outspoken and sometimes brash style, recalled in an interview with NTV how Slutsky made inappropriate remarks in her presence and she asked him to tone it down, which he did, according to her testimony. Zakharova added that none of the men in the room came to her defense.

She also vocally dismissed allegations that Slutsky’s accusers were ‘spinning yarns’ or dressing improperly:

Я категорически не согласна с теми, которые говорят: да ладно, это им показалось, да какая-то там девочка, да она не так оделась, да это все ее выдумки. Ничего подобного.

I categorically disagree with those who are saying — come on, they were just seeing things, or some girl was dressed the way she shouldn’t have been, or she’s making things up. Nothing like that.

Many Russian reporters threw their full support behind their colleagues. On International Women’s Day, many picketed Duma with demands to strip Slutsky of his seat:

Several pickets took place by the Duma’s walls [with slogans] condemning Slutsky.

Other journalists took to social media to demand Slutsky’s resignation. Tatyana Felgengauer, a radio host at the independent Echo of Moscow station who was stabbed in the neck in October 2017, declared:

Slutsky must go. But first he is expected to apologize.

Yet, Pavel Gusev, editor in chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets (a national tabloid) and the head of the Moscow Union of Journalists, said in an interview with RTVi that he promised to investigate ‘any wrongdoing on the part of the women reporters.’

RTVi's Tikhon Dzyadko, who interviewed Gusev on air, vented his frustration: 

Гусев не перестает радовать: в интервью RTVI он сказал, что они на Союзе журналистов Москвы обсудят не только вину Слуцкого, но и нарушение журналистской этики журналистками, которые столько лет молчали про домогательства Слуцкого.

Gusev never fails to please: in an interview with RTVi he said that the Moscow Union of Journalists will debate not only Slutsky’s possible guilt but also whether the women reporters accusing him trespassed professional ethics by keeping silent for so long about his harassment.

When the student action group at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) discovered that Slutsky headed their international relations department, they demanded to remove him: 

Students demand to fire Slutsky because no one can guarantee that his ‘habits of behaving in the company of women reporters’ will not spill over to MSU’s students and professors.

The student group added in a statement:

Неподобающее поведение Слуцкого бросает тень на Московский университет. Мы считаем, что публичных извинений недостаточно и что Слуцкий должен покинуть пост заведующего кафедрой.

Slutsky’s inappropriate behavior casts a shadow on Moscow University. We believe that public apologies are not enough and that Slutsky must leave the position of the head of the department.

However, Slutsky has not yet faced consequences for his alleged actions, apart from mild public embarrassment. For now, he has the Russian political elite’s full support. The Duma’s ethics committee will not convene until after the presidential elections on March 18. 


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