African Migrant Rape Victim Was Held in Prison Due to Lack of Vacancy in Shelters

Ethiopian woman was raped during passage through Sinai, then kept in Israels Saharonim prison because womens shelters had no vacancy.

An Ethiopian migrant who suffered severe sexual abuse and is in her sixth month of pregnancy has been in held in Saharonim Prison since November, but can't be released to a shelter for victims of human trafficking because it is full.

The woman, who became pregnant after being raped, has also been denied permission to have an abortion because the medical abortions committee at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva said her pregnancy was too far advanced. Yesterday, however, a custody tribunal did agree to release her to a different shelter.

The woman entered Israel illegally from Sinai last November. After she was identified as an Ethiopian citizen, a deportation order was issued, but she refused to return to Ethiopia and has therefore remained in Saharonim.

Last month, during a periodic review hearing before a custody tribunal, she revealed that she was severely sexually abused while crossing through Sinai. A medical examination then found that she was in her fifth month of pregnancy.

"I didn't tell what happened to me in Sinai until now, because I was embarrassed," she told the tribunal. "But once I knew I was pregnant, I wanted to tell the truth.

I was in Sinai for a week. During that week, I was raped by one of the smugglers. He took me to his room in the evening, and there he raped me against my will. I was afraid that if I objected, he would kill me. This was repeated for three days straight.

"I don't want to give birth. I want to have an abortion, and am asking for your help," she told the custody tribunal.

In response, Judge Marat Dorfman ordered the woman sent for an abortion immediately. But the in-house hospital committee that must approve all abortions refused, saying her pregnancy was too advanced.

Moreover, a police representative told Dorfman that even though the woman had been recognized as a trafficking victim, the state-funded Ma'agan shelter, which handles such victims, is full, and room isn't expected to open up there until the end of June.

So yesterday Dorfman decided to release the woman to another shelter until a place opens up in Ma'agan.

"I think that in the case before us, in light of the severe sexual abuse the detainee has undergone, her advanced pregnancy and the committee's refusal to approve an abortion, her continued detention in custody is liable to harm her health, and this justifies releasing her to an alternative shelter, with suitable guarantees [that she won't flee]," he wrote.

Ma'agan, in the center of the country, is the only shelter that specializes in trafficking victims, though the one in the north to which the woman was sent also handles such women on occasion. In 2010, Ma'agan took in 33 women, most of whom stayed for three to six months.

The Social Affairs Ministry said Ma'agan has beds for 35 women, plus their children if necessary, but is currently fully occupied. "To cope with the waiting list, we are in the process of opening two transitional apartments for those who leave the shelter," the ministry said.

"Once the apartments are opened, the waiting list for the shelter will be reduced."

Saharonim Prison - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - June 2012
Eliyahu Hershkovitz