After 28 years at the Center, I keep thinking that nothing can shock me.
Time and again, I’m proven wrong.
An 80-year-old woman calls our hotline, emotionally raw. She says she can’t take her secret to the grave with her. When she was sexually abused as a child she hid her shame and suppressed her voice out of fear. She has never told another soul about the trauma that has so profoundly shaped her life.
A teenage boy shows up at the Center. He is exhibiting signs of self-harm and alleges that his step-father has been sadistically molesting him, but tells us that when he finally told someone about the hell that he is living through he was dismissed as a liar.
A young professional came to the Center for a one-on-one meeting. She had been at a work party. One of her co-workers, whom she thought she knew well and trusted, offered her a ride home. When their conversation took a strange turn, she began to feel deeply uncomfortable and tried to get out of the car at a stop light. The childproof lock was activated. She couldn’t open the door or the window, so no one could hear her screaming for help.
It’s not the specifics of these stories that shock me. Silence, humiliation and brutality are pervasive themes among survivors of sexual violence. And I am not surprised that these tragedies occurred. One out of three women and one out of six men experience sexual assault in Israel.
Nor am I shocked when survivors are denied support. Most survivors avoid reporting what they experience due to a fear of judgment, as, sadly, victims of this crime are uniquely stigmatized: blamed, their credibility called into doubt. Less than 15% of survivors who turn to the Center file a complaint with the police and of that small number, 84% of the cases that are prosecuted result in no indictment.
What does shock me, again and again, is the resilience that’s mixed in with all this pain. I cannot begin to imagine the strength it takes for that 80-year-old woman to share her story after so many years of suppressing her trauma. I cannot fathom the courage that it takes for that teenage boy to open up again after what he experienced the first time he reached out for help. I cannot comprehend how that young woman gets out of bed in the morning, let alone shows up for support group.
What also continues to shock me is that while this work forces me to stare at the dark, ugly side of Israel on a daily basis, it also reveals its brightest, most compassionate and dynamic face.
When the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center began 40 years ago, it was a lone voice in Israel with little societal support – a single crisis hotline run by a handful of volunteers. Today there is a National Association of Rape Crisis Centers and nine rape crisis centers throughout the country. At the Tel Aviv Center alone we handle 10,500 calls annually on our three crisis hotlines for Women, Men and Religious Men. We offer 40 specialized forms of programming, and our education department runs 5,000 workshops yearly.
Every day I am humbled to see the empathy and dedication exhibited by our volunteers, professional staff and supporters. Every day I’m in awe when a survivor, who would have every excuse to turn away, shows compassion and kinship to someone else who is suffering.
We have come so far. And we have so far still to go.
This year the Center experienced a surge of demand for our services the likes of which we have never seen before. To illustrate this upswing, in October our Women’s Crisis Hotline saw a 50% increase and our Men’s Hotline saw a 100% increase in calls.
This extreme rise is mainly due to the current climate encouraging open discourse about sexual violence brought on by the growth of the #metoo movement. While this painful but necessary process is doing so much to raise awareness and cause powerful societal change, it is also highly triggering for many survivors. Consequently, the Center’ resources are being utilized more than ever before, with survivors turning to us for the support that they need and deserve.
December 21st and 22nd is your opportunity to support this vital work through attending our annual bazaar, which features 40,000 heavily discounted, high-quality women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, wedding dresses, accessories and household items donated by more than 700 of Israel’s top designer labels.
While you bargain hunt — and there are serious finds for almost laughable prices — you’ll also have the opportunity to take a moment and reflect that you are actually doing your part in helping to build a kinder, more just Israel.
The Bazaar will take place at Expo Tel Aviv, Mercaz Ha’Yeridim, Bitan 11 on Friday, December 21st between 10 AM and 6 PM and Saturday, December 22nd between 10 AM and 8 PM.