Israel Fails Sexual Assault Victims, Forcing Some to Hurt Themselves Just to Get Help

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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An anti-violence against women rally in Tel Aviv, last year.
An anti-violence against women rally in Tel Aviv, last year.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Victims of sexual assault have to wait far too long for mental health treatment, according to a position paper issued by the Israel Society for Treatment of Sexual Abuse, an organization of the Israel Medical Association. Experts said some victims attempt suicide, so they may be moved up on waiting lists.

According to the position paper, there are so few treatment frameworks that those seeking hospital treatment as an inpatient or outpatient, or in a specialized facility, can wait anywhere from three months to a year.

Moreover, there are no proper treatment facilities for men, for the ultra-Orthodox, Arab and youth populations, and there is a severe shortage of clinics in the outlying areas, the document says.

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In the state budget passed by the cabinet, no money was allocated to fix these problems. According to a Health Ministry source, there is supposed to be a discussion of the problem on Monday in an effort to get money allocated from the ministry’s budget, but there is no way to know how much that will be.

“There is a mismatch between the number of solutions offered, the number of beds and the number of wards, and the demand, and this costs us lives,” said Yael Sherer, director of the Lobby for the War on Sexual Violence. “Women and men are simply hurting themselves while waiting for proper treatment. Even if they double the solutions we will not catch up. We see time and time again cases where women and men have to attempt suicide to advance in the queue. The impression is that the state is prepared to intervene only in extreme cases, and that is a destructive conclusion for those who need mental health services.”

Psychiatric ward in Ichilov hospital, Tel-AvivCredit: David Bachar

According to the position paper, the situation is particularly serious in the outlying areas. As a result, some victims are referred to welfare services that are not suited to people suffering from emotional trauma. According to the data submitted to the paper’s authors, Israel has two large centers that specialize in this particular field and both are in the center of the country. In addition, there are eight or nine clinics that have started to deal with this professionally, which are also mostly in the center, with a couple in Jerusalem and the north. These frameworks can only treat 500 patients a year, while the target population is estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 people.

Israel does not have any day centers or rehab frameworks for men, and a very limited ability to hospitalize men who’ve suffered sexual assault. “Over the past two years there’s a lot more awareness, with more and more support groups opening for men, the reason being that they have nowhere else to turn,” Sherer says. “It’s being done outside the mental health system, which is ignoring this population.”

The Health Ministry said in response, “The ministry understands the importance of creating a quality and accessible continuum of services for victims of sexual assault. The ministry has several plans on this issue, and it intends to expand the solutions for this population.”

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