oct 2000

St.Petersburg Times

The Priyut and? Dom Trudolyubiya

Russia's 'Priyut' system grew in the early 1900's, when economic hardship drove many young women from their homes in search of work and better lives. Many found only violence and prostitution, and turned to the refuges for help. After a long hiatus during Soviet times, the Priyut system re-emerged after the fall of communism, in tandem with alcoholism and grinding economic hardships that market reforms brought to many Russians. In such an atmosphere, children often become at best the victims of neglect, at worst the victims of violence and sexual predators.

Child exploitation and incest remain some of the least talked about topics in Russia. "It seems that men are getting crazy, said Dom Trudolyubiya's director, Galina Volkova. "The cases of incest and violence by stepfathers have been known before, but today the situation seems to be getting worse. I think that our society should seriously consider this problem," she said. "It is the Soviet mentality in many adults simply to say everything is all right," said Galina Volkova.

"But we are dealing with more and more alcoholism in the country, more and more social degradation, and incest just doesn't enter social dialog." The State Committee on Statistics has no figures for incestuous rape, but the cases keep piling up in the Priyut. Many experts, however, have noted that rape is one of Russia's most under-reported crimes. "Rape is not taken seriously by our police," said Volkova. "The woman is always seen as provoking it. Therefore many women don't see the point in reporting it."

Priyut psychologist Galina Biryulyova said that most of the girls have significant psychological problems. She added ''that the lack of love most of these girls have experienced often leads them to seek mother figures among the staff. Sometimes you may spend hours just consoling them and you feel that you may burn out with it."

Financially, the Priyut is supported by the St. Petersburg Children and Youth Committee which provides money for the board and the staff's salary. The rest comes in donations.

Galina Volkova said that most of their girls are able to return to normal lives.

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