Ilana Kraus

Fight… and flee

Recently I bought a bracelet. Not because I needed it or thought it was particularly beautiful, but because it was a donation to an NGO that supports shelters for battered women. The woman who sold it to me was wearing an identical bracelet. She was proud, she said, that the jewelry chain she works for was a partner in this initiative.

We couldn’t help talking about the woman from Tel Mond who had been killed not long before, apparently by her erstwhile partner. Though she had filed two complaints against this man for harassing and threatening her, she refused to do what the police suggested: go to a shelter for battered women. She was absolutely right. Why should she move out of her home, uproot her children, leave her community. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She stood firm. Now her three daughters are orphans.

A few days later I read an essay about breasts, really about saving your life by removing them. A sensitive and sensible view of what breasts mean to a woman from the time they begin to grow to mastectomy, the protagonist chose to cut off a part of herself so she could go on living with her family and her children. This woman chose to flee the cancer and live.

Sometimes women need to fight and sometimes to flee.

What can be done to fight against what is being called a pandemic of violence against women around the world? One way is to stop focusing on women, blaming the victims (“what was she doing drinking like a sailor”; “she was asking for it being dressed like a slut”).

The focus needs to be on the mindset and behavior patterns of the perpetrators, the men. Despite all the strides that have been made in gender equality, we still live in a patriarchal society, where machismo is strong and being a “real man” often means “showing her who’s boss.” This is not to mention rape as a weapon, sexual slavery, forced prostitution.

So why don’t men, who most likely shudder at the mere thought of their daughters’ being abused or harassed by a man, come out against this violence? Why is it only women’s groups that defend women’s rights and try to combat gender based harassment and violence?

Some are calling on men to join in this fight. I recently read about one example, Jackson Katz, an educator, author, filmmaker, and cultural theorist, who is co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, which enlists men in the struggle to prevent men’s violence against women and a campaign in the U.S. that is trying to take the violence out of machismo bravado.

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is very often carried out by those who were victims or witnesses of it themselves. So how can this cycle of violence be broken? One way is to provide specific treatment for men, especially those who want to break out of this pattern, giving them the tools to control their anger rather than taking it out by beating their wives and terrorizing their children. A model I read about a few years ago is Beit Noam in Ra’anana, an intensive, four-month, live-in program where men participate in group treatment sessions, and learn to deal with what caught them up in the cycle of violence.

The UN has designated November 25 as the day on which the world marks the fight to eliminate violence against women. Among other data, this web site states: “The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion is for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.”

Perhaps money is after all the key to getting governments, the justice system, and non-government organizations involved in educating and legislating against violence. Zero tolerance for violence against women. At least where the pattern of domestic violence is concerned, it would probably cost less to legislate a few months in a Beit Noam type of setting than to incarcerate men, bring them to trial again and again, build and maintain more shelters for battered women, rebuild the lives of orphans. The savings in broken lives and families would be immeasurable.

All of us – women and men – should fight to eliminate violence against women. But women may need to flee when violence threatens them personally.

About the Author
Ilana Kraus has been living in Israel for fifty years. A translator, editor, and journalist, Ilana has in recent years has begun writing fiction as well as opinion pieces.