Last year a total of 755 women, an increase of about 20 percent over 2014, took refuge in one of Israel’s 14 shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence. Another 60 women contacted the shelters for help last year, but didn’t move in because there was no available space. And many don’t manage to put their lives back together after leaving the shelter, Haaretz has found.
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Some 20 women are murdered in domestic violence cases every year in Israel. Many of them sought assistance at shelters, but after leaving, they found themselves without money or support, and returned home to their abusers.
Women can stay in a shelter for up to a year. During that time, they receive accommodations, food, psychological and social support, as well as protection. They are sent to shelters that are not in their home towns so their abusers won’t find them. They receive a one-time grant on leaving the shelter to help them resume their regular lives, but the grant, 8,000 shekels (a little more than $2,000) plus 1,000 shekels per child, is usually only enough to meet their needs for one to two months.
Although they are referred to social welfare authorities for further support on leaving the shelter, in many instances, they are lost among hundreds of files that local social workers have to deal with.
A case in point is a woman who, for purposes of this article will be identified as Dana. “I was in my fourth month of pregnancy, and my husband beat me non-stop,” the 25-year-old woman recounted. “He used to imprison me in a room, take the phone, bar me from leaving the house or meeting girlfriends. When I tried to run back to my parents, he found me and threw me to the floor, meaning that I received a blow to my stomach. From the hospital, they sent me to the shelter.
“At the shelter, they looked after me, but after four months, when I left there, I was left with nothing. I had lost my job when I was at the shelter, and my debts ballooned because I didn’t have money and the bank was pressuring me. I moved to another city to run away from my husband, but I was alone and I didn’t manage. I had no money and I had no support. The social worker barely had time for me,” Dana said.
After half a year, she returned to her husband and got pregnant again. “I didn’t want to go back there, but what choice did I have? There was nowhere else to go and no help.” A year ago she left her husband again, she said. “And now I am alone with two children and it’s very hard for me. The moment I left the shelter, they forget you, and you face everything alone.”
“When a woman leaves the shelter, the grant money is not enough for her to buy a refrigerator,“ noted Rivka Neuman, the director of the division for the advancement of women at WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization. Neuman is a social worker who directed a women’s shelter for 17 years. A woman with children who leaves a shelter becomes a single parent, Neuman noted.
“She has to deal with the man in court and fight with the National Insurance Institute. She needs to move to another city and help her children adjust. She needs an apartment, and she needs to support her family alone. And this, when most of them come out with continuing post-traumatic [stress] that makes it difficult to function.” Today at organizations that run shelters, there is consensus that a support needs to be provided to address the women’s economic and educational needs, she added.
Last year, several organizations approached the Social Affairs Ministry seeking to have a program created for the rehabilitation of women who have left a shelter. There have been a number of discussions on the matter, but it has not yet yielded tangible results. The ministry did not respond to an inquiry from Haaretz on the status of the matter.
The ministry did note the following, however: “[The ministry] acts in accordance with the law and assists women who are victims of violence and their children who leave shelters for independent lives.” With regard to the grant that the women receive, the ministry noted: “Each woman who leaves the shelter is referred for continued care by the social services department in the area of their new residence or at a center for the prevention of domestic violence (of which there are 90 such centers in the country) specializing in the field. The shelters protect the women and treat those suffering from post-trauma.”
About 30 percent of the women who have spent time in shelters return to them, data from a study that followed about 300 women who had been the victims of domestic violence found. The study looked at victims during a four-year period ending at the beginning of 2015. The study was commissioned and funded by the Social Affairs Ministry and carried out by faculty members from Bar-Ilan University who are currently studying the integration of women in society after they leave the shelter.
The interim results of that study are not encouraging. “One of the main barriers is the economic issue, which is also one of the first causes of their return to a violent relationship” said Bar-Ilan social work professor Anat Ben-Porat, one of the authors of the study. “All of the [women] suffer from isolation and serious economic difficulties.”
About a year ago, a new program with the involvement of all of the country’s banks was started to help women manage their finances in advance of the time at which they leave their women’s shelter.