Calls to a domestic abuse hotline operated by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry soared in the second half of April, to over 33 a day on average, compared to eight a day in the first month of the coronavirus lockdown in Israel, from March 15 to April 15.
In response, the ministry is opening a text message hotline for reporting domestic violence. On Sunday, for the first time in 15 years, a new shelter for female survivors of domestic violence is set to open. It will accommodate women who are in isolation at home because of the coronavirus.
The hotline, which can be reached by dialing 118, received 400 complaints of domestic violence between April 16 and April 27, compared to 244 complaints between March 15 and April 15. Last week the center received 222 complaints, a record for a single week.
Most of the complaints were for violence against women and for violence against children, but there were also calls involving violence between siblings, by children against their parents or by extended family members who are sheltering in place in the same home. A small percentage of the calls involved complaints of violence against elderly people, neglect of vulnerable individuals or violence against neighbors.
The text message option was introduced in the wake of the steep rise in the number of calls and after social services professionals realized that victims of violence might be unable to make a call without being overheard by their abuser.
“Despite the rise in calls to 118 and the Israel Police 100 hotline, the assumption is that there are many more [victims] who don’t call even with the increased tension at home during the lockdown,” says Iris Florentin, the director of the ministry’s social services division.
The new shelter, which can house 12 women at a time, will be operated by the Women’s International Zionist Organization. Ministry officials say the shelter will operate for as long as necessary. Occupancy levels at shelters for women suffering domestic violence began climbing in the first week after restrictions on leaving the home were introduced. This was not only due to a spike in requests but also because of the difficulty in leaving the shelter during the lockdown was enacted.
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An average of 20 women are murdered in Israel each year. In March four women were murdered; there was an attempted murder of a fifth woman. A woman was murdered in Holon on Tuesday. Her husband was arrested several hours later and confessed to the fatal stabbing.
This weekend the Social Services Ministry, in cooperation with an interministerial committee to combat domestic violence, is set to launch a television and digital media campaign for the hotlines in a bid to encourage victims to report abuse.
“Coping with the coronavirus requires us to operate on a number of fronts simultaneously. One of the most important is the difficult incidence of violence in the family, which unfortunately has increased recently as a result of the confinement at home,” said Social Services Minister Ofir Akunis. “We call on members of the public who have witnessed violent incidents not to hesitate to call for advice or to report.”