Heads of Israeli Battered Women’s Shelters Oppose New Policy of Sending Women There by Force

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File photo: Women at an Israeli women's shelter in 2018.
File photo: Women at an Israeli women's shelter in 2018.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The directors of battered women’s shelters where women have been forcibly assigned say they adamantly oppose this practice. On Sunday, Haaretz disclosed that on the recommendation of police, courts in recent months have ordered women at risk of domestic violence to go into these shelters against their will.

“This has no legal or humane justification,” the director of one shelter said. “The woman is being harmed as are the other women and children at the shelter.” On the other hand, police sources say that they would prefer to sustain criticism over the policy rather than put the lives of the women at risk. These are extreme cases and these women owe their lives to what the police are doing, the police explained.

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The director of an Arab community women’s shelter that has taken in several women against their will, pursuant to a court order, told Haaretz: “A shelter is a therapeutic place. Women and children who have chosen to receive protection and treatment are staying there. Every time they send in a woman who doesn’t want to be at the shelter, it goes from being a therapeutic place to a prison, both for the woman and for the other women and children. It’s not helpful for her or the other women.”

The director added: “The moment she doesn’t want to undergo treatment and we force it on her, we are actually continuing the violence that the violent man had directed at her.”

Under such circumstances, she said, the woman views the shelter staff as part of the establishment that is helping her only because the law requires it and not out of genuine concern. The women sometimes try to run away, refuse to cooperate in receiving therapy and in performing chores at the shelter.

But the police say the definition of “battered women” is not sufficiently clear in these exceptional cases, even though they are subject to unimaginable threats. In the more common instances in which a woman is being abused by her domestic partner or other relative, the police arrest the man, remove him from where the woman lives and file criminal charges against him if there is sufficient evidence to do so.

In rarer cases, however, a police source said, the vast majority of which occur among Israeli Arabs, an entire family can be hostile to a woman, yet she is not prepared to accept assistance from the police. In such cases, according to the source, forcing her to enter a women’s shelter is the only possible solution. “The other option in such cases is to allow the woman to be killed, which we are not prepared to permit.

“We can’t go and arrest all of the men in the family who have an interest in harming her. These are cases in which the woman’s life is worthless once it has been decided that she has harmed the [extended] family. They will even pursue her in Turkey or Ramallah if necessary,” the source said.

Police acknowledge that admitting women against their will to a shelter isn’t helpful to the other women there. And although the location of women’s shelters is confidential, they say there have been women who have disclosed the location to their relatives. They also cite the possibility of moving the woman abroad in some instances as something that should be an option in extreme cases, in addition to shelters in their own communities. (The current practice is for women to be referred to shelters outside their local communities).

Staff at the Women’s International Zionist Organization, which operates two of the country’s 14 women’s shelters, said they would not agree to accept women referred to their shelters by force. Rikva Neumann, director of WIZO’s department on the advancement of the status of women, called the practice “bullying and cowardly.”

“Instead of depriving the woman who is harmed of her liberty, the state needs to use methods to place limitations on the violent man and punish him,” she said. “Instead of treating the violent man, they are infringing on the women’s liberty as well as her ability to recover. Women’s arrival at shelters out of choice is a prior condition required to create trust and the development of a treatment process. It can’t be done by force.”

The Na’amat women’s organization, which runs a shelter, also opposes the policy of referring women by force. “Shelters are not a prison and the court can’t turn them into one,” said Na’amat chairwoman Galia Wolloch. “The woman is free to make decisions for herself and her children.”

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