ANNA ZHAVNEROVICH WOKE WITH A START, her purple eye sockets and swollen lips throbbing. It had been two days since she woke up to her ex-boyfriend, Mikhail, pinning her down on the couch, his face twisted in rage. He slammed his fists into her eyes, cheeks, and chin. She went limp. She felt furious that she would die on her couch.

But Anna didn’t die. Instead, the then-28-year-old journalist peeled herself off of the couch, dripping blood as she hobbled to the bathroom. The next day, she phoned her editor, Katya. In the white-walled calmness of Katya’s apartment in Moscow’s Red Square, just a few blocks from the Kremlin, the two women made a calculated choice: They weren’t going to let Mikhail get away with it. To the two women, writing about the attack felt like a professional duty—a chance to save lives using the only tool at their disposal: the internet.

Going public was a risky move. In Russia, at the highest levels of government and society, violence against women is tolerated and even defended. According to Human Rights Watch, each year roughly 12,000 women there are killed, most often by husbands, lovers, and other men close the victims. Police in Russia are often slow to respond to calls for help from women, or don’t respond at all—which means that the internet is often the place of last resort. And women who talk about their abuse, on television or the web, are punished with a startling amount of online abuse.