Band-Aids for Victims

It was hard to miss the snorts of ridicule among members of the audience listening to the Jerusalem district attorney at last month's conference on crime victims' rights. "Prosecutors have always had good relations with crime victims," said attorney Eli Abarbanel, at the event at Tel Aviv University. "Information is provided. There is attention paid to the position of the victims."

"In this country?" someone in the audience wondered aloud.

The law stated that special aid units were to be set up by April, 2005 in the various prosecutors' offices to ensure that the rights of crime victims are duly considered. The units only recently began to work in five of six district attorney's offices. Each one is supposed to be manned by one lawyer and one half-time administrative worker, who are responsible for trying to ensure the rights of victims in the 35,000 cases that have been opened since April, 2005.

Sources at the State Prosecutor's Office say the lawyers hired for the units are not actually following every case and do not constitute a replacement for the external aid groups that provide legal representation. They add that the units are a vehicle for disseminating information about victims' rights: Brochures explaining these rights are supposed to be handed out to other lawyers and victims alike. However, some victims do not receive the information and complain that the prosecutors who are handling their cases are too busy to see them.

Midnight sessions?

"Clearly the prosecuting lawyer working in the aid unit will not be able to speak to victims about every detail," says Dr. Dana Pogach, head of the Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime at Ono Academic College. "It isn't enough for the prosecutor to send a brochure to every victim and thus ostensibly comply with the language of the law. One person for all of this is pretty much a joke."

Crime victims also have access to data stored in a computerized system run by the police and the prosecutors, via Internet and an automated telephone service. The system offers information such as dates of court deliberations, the location of the prisoner, his furloughs, etc. However, this system is also not free of hitches. Lara Zinman of the Organization of Families of Murder Victims describes cases in which the system showed court sessions scheduled for midnight or the wrong name for a defendant.

Ofer Damti, of the same organization, who is raising his sister's children after she was murdered by her husband, stresses the importance of these technical-sounding details. He once got a message from the prison service, saying "'We forgot to tell you: [The murderer] went on furlough today,'" he relates. "The first time, I took the whole family to Eilat. The second time I kept them home from school"

In another case, a neighbor told him she thought she had seen the murderer-father near the school of his daughter, says Damti. "I called to ask whether or not he was on furlough and they sent me from pillar to post. No police squad car was prepared to come. In the end, after I pulled some strings, I got an answer within five minutes - it wasn't him. If you have a center for aid that gives you the answer to something like this, there won't be so much trouble."

Adds Damti, who is now represented by the Noga Center: "All of these things are very painful. Imagine you've lost what is most dear to you. How can I not be part of what is going on? For you it's just a case number - for me it's my sister."