In March, 344 people called into Israel’s emergency hotline to report issues of domestic violence within their home. In April, that number skyrocketed to 849. And just when it seemed like the numbers couldn’t get any higher, in May, there were 1,885 complaints.
As the nation and world grapple with the impact of Covid, in many homes worldwide thousands of women are suffering their own private turmoil of living in a home that is tense, unsafe and putting their lives and the lives of their children at risk.
As the Director of the Clinic for Legal Feminism at University of Haifa, we see the women behind these statistics every day. Take the story of D. A mother of two, who was referred to us by a social worker and was a victim of domestic violence for years — violence that only exacerbated once the country went into lockdown.
After weeks of suffering untold stress and with family finances uncertain, D decided that she had had enough and went in search of a domestic violence shelter. Except everyone she approached had the same answer: Sorry, we’re full — we have no room for you and your children.
D and her children finally found refuge in the house of a relative and stayed there for a few days, all the while petrified that her husband would find them. She filed a complaint against her husband who was arrested but soon released due to lack of evidence that would warrant pressing charges.
D was devastated. She had done all she could, but she was still unsafe. There was nowhere else to go.
This was when D turned to us. We were able to place her in a shelter and helped her file a protective order so her husband couldn’t come near her once he was released. To some, this might seem like a success. But for D, who will most likely spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder, all while being a single mother, this triumph is a small one in the grand scheme of things.
COVID-19 has only amplified this critical problem in Israeli society. As we mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Israel must recognize that it has some serious work to do.
At our clinic, we are attempting to do our part by providing aid to dozens of women coping with stress and trauma on both an individual and lobby for change across various government sectors. However, the country must do its part in recognizing that violence against women is a systemic problem which calls for complete overhaul in the way domestic violence and its survivors are treated.
- First, the power balance must shift, whereby violent men should be forced to leave their houses rather than the women and children. One of the barriers that prevent women from escaping and seeking help is the tremendous difficulty in leaving the family home, extracting children from schools, taking a leave of absence from work and the total upheaval this entails.
- Additionally, the criminal justice system must learn to address domestic violence effectively. Like sex crimes, domestic violence complaints often don’t have external evidence to prove a crime has taken place and other potential witnesses are often reluctant to come forward. As a result, complaints concerning domestic violence are undertreated, and violent spouses are allowed to walk free and strike again.
- Finally, and importantly, in order to break free from the cycle of violence, survivors need holistic professional support including psychological treatment, child care and education, social aid, financial and employment solutions, and legal aid.
Perhaps the current dramatic increase in domestic violence cases including some that have ended tragically (this year alone 19 women have been murdered by their domestic partners) will push legislators and public officials in Israel to make these important changes and finally contend with these unacceptable crimes.
As for us, the Clinic will continue to work to promote these changes, and be there for any woman in need.
Contact the Clinic for Legal Feminism at the University of Haifa via this link.