As War Flares, Some Women Flee From Violence at Home

While Hamas' rockets have driven many Israelis into bomb shelters, a growing number of women have had to seek refuge in a different type of shelter.

Or Kashti
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A shelter for abused women. Credit: David Bachar
Or Kashti

While fighting in Gaza continues, violence is also intensifying inside Israeli homes, with NGOs reporting a spike in complaints of abuse against women.

The support center for victims of sexual violence in Be’er Sheva, which covers the entire south, reported that 1,423 people approached them in July, a 60 percent increase compared to June.

Another NGO, No to Violence Against Women, reported a 20 percent rise in the number of women who called their hotline for the first time, and a 30 percent increase in the number of women seeking shelter.

“The tension and stress while enclosed together [in a room] results in increased family violence,” says Daniella Kehat, the organization’s executive director.

R. and her two children arrived at a shelter for abused women 10 days ago from the south. “We were afraid to go outside since there were so many red alerts. We all sat at home or in the bomb shelter all day.

“My problems with my husband started earlier, but now he was stressed, taking it out on the children, yelling and hitting them. I was afraid, but finally realized I had no choice but to leave,” said R. who is one of 12 women living in this shelter in central Israel.

Kehat says that “there is a sense of escalation, with women sometimes phoning during an assault. Neighbors should become more aware that violence continues even during a war. An attempt was made to add the NGO’s phone number to the other emergency numbers appearing in the media; in one case the NGO was told that publicity would “weaken national morale.”

Crisis situations often act as a trigger for men predisposed to violence, according to the No to Violence Against Women chairperson Ruth Resnick,

The director of another support center says that wars often induce women to come forth with complaints for the first time, due to their stress and anxiety. Many women being treated regress into fear and become victims again.

Prof. Esther Herzog is not convinced that wars exacerbate violence against women. During the second intifada and the second Lebanon war there was a drop in complaints, possible due to increased social cohesiveness, she notes. Nevertheless, sexual violence and stress during war can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress later on, according to Dr. Sherry Aharoni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Social Affairs Ministry reports no increase in the number of cases of domestic violence in the last month. Shelters are not fully occupied, said ministry officials.

Kehat disagrees. Even under ordinary circumstances her organization’s three shelters cannot cope with 65 percent of those in need, since they are always full. “Now things are worse,”she says.

The ministry reports that in 2013, 32 women turning to shelters were turned away for lack of space.

There are 14 shelters for across Israel that can accommodate a total of 160 women and their children.

According to the Ministry and the Knesset Research and Information Center, 750 women and 1,079 children passed through these shelters in 2013. During the same year 12,625 investigations of domestic violence were opened. In 2012 there were 3,749 medical reports of violence or sexual assault against women or girls over 13 years of age.

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