The Deadline Has Passed, and There's Still No Unit for Monitoring Domestic Abuse Offenders

Even as Israeli domestic abuse complaints continue to rise, monitoring and rehabilitation efforts are slow coming, with the unit supposed to tackle domestic abuse still in its nascent stages

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Graffiti spotted in Tel Aviv reads 'Dad killed Mom', August 2020
Graffiti spotted in Tel Aviv reads 'Dad killed Mom', August 2020 Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Mandparo Alaza was released from prison in March after serving time for the commission of violent offenses against his wife, Mastwell. But seven months in prison did not keep him from murdering his wife in April, about six weeks after he was released. This case – one of 17 femicides since the beginning of 2020 – points to two issues that require urgent care if the rising tide of violence against women is to be curbed: Alaza did not receive rehabilitation for domestic violence offenders during his incarceration, and there was no appropriate system in place to monitor him following his release.

Two new revelations show the severity of the situation: Haaretz has learned that the deadline for establishment of a unit to monitor these men following their release from prison, has not the deadline for which has come and gone, has been delayed. According to a source familiar with the matter: “The government is busy with other things and even important programs like this one are moving ahead slowly, as if women are not being murdered every day.” In addition, an internal report by the Israel Prison Service reveals that as of February, more than 40 percent of perpetrators of domestic violence did not receive specialized treatment during their prison term.

Haaretz podcast: Israel in lockdown limbo, and what's really stuffed in Bibi's laundry suitcasesCredit: Haaretz

One of the byproducts of the coronavirus crisis has been a rise in domestic violence. During the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry received 177 complaints of domestic violence, as compared to 75 calls in the same period last year. Due to the spike in such cases, back in May, then-Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that by September his ministry would establish a unit to monitor such offenders following their release from prison, similar to the unit for monitoring pedophiles.

Hermon prison in northern Israel, March 2020 Credit: Gil Eliahu

September has come and gone, the unit is only in the preliminary phase of establishment, and the police and the Public Security Ministry have declined to say when it would open. The ministry told Haaretz that the first phase has been completed and that “soon” warnings about the impending release of dangerous prisoners, including domestic abuse offenders, would be conveyed directly to the relevant authorities at the police station. The ministry did not provide an exact date or the reasons for the delay, even in light of the rise in domestic violence.

The Public Security Ministry also said that it was still laying the groundwork for the second phase, and was preparing to issue a tender in December for the purchase of electronic devices that domestic violence offenders would be required to wear upon their release. They also added that laws must be amended to complete the process and that the details are still under review. The police refused to answer any other questions on the matter. After a query from Haaretz, the Yisrael Beitenu lawmaker Oded Forer, who chairs the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, said he would call a meeting on the matter.

Meanwhile, Haaretz has obtained an internal report by the Israel Prison Service from February 2020 regarding the condition of all of the approximately 5,100 criminal prisoners in Israel. About a quarter of these people (24.3 percent) are defined as domestic violence offenders. Out of these approximately 1,200 prisoners, only about half (53.6 percent) have taken part in programs that specifically address domestic violence. According to the report, 43.5 percent of the prisoners defined as being in need of rehabilitation for domestic abuse have not received treatment. Neither, have 45.8 percent of sex offenders received treatment, according to the report.

Anti-femicide demonstration in Taibeh, July 2020 Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The prison service says there are a few reasons for this state of affairs, and that one of the main reasons for this is the many prisoners' refusal to consent to receive such treatment and not a dearth of such programs. Most offenders who admit to committing crimes accept treatment, and most of those who do not confess, refuse treatment. In addition, prisoners are sometimes taking part in other therapeutic programs, such as to overcome alcohol abuse, and the prison service says prisoners should not take part in two different therapeutic programs at the same time.

Another reason for the lack of treatment in prison is that in 2019, for example, two-thirds of domestic violence offenders were incarcerated for a year or less. In this time frame, such prisoners only participate in a preliminary program, not one specifically geared to treatment for domestic violence offenders.

A report by the Israel Women’s Network, whose findings are published here for the first time, has reached the same conclusion regarding the impact of the length of incarceration on therapy in prison. The Israel Women’s Network is working on legislation that would condition the shortening of a sentence for such offenders on their agreement to undergo therapy. The report, written by attorney Shai Oksenberg, notes that contrary to many other countries, in Israel, most treatment for violence focuses on protecting women and their children. “Today men who act violently toward their partners are not required to undergo treatment and there are no full and precise statistics about men receiving treatment,” Oksenberg said “There are not enough incentives and sanctions to encourage participation” in such programs, she added.

A public installation in Jerusalem comprised of traditional mourning notices to protest femicide, June 2020 Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Israel Women’s Network is calling for the establishment and expansion of treatment programs for domestic abuse offenders in Israel, as well as a unified standard of treatment, and the encouragement of full participation in programs and dropout prevention. The network also emphasizes the need for funding for therapist training, supervision, documentation and follow-up. “The clock is ticking, and especially during another lockdown, with all the uncertainty and economic pressure it brings with it, and the next attempted murder or murder of a woman must be prevented. The responsibility for this is on the government’s doorstep,” Oksenberg says.

The report cites World Health Organization figures that almost one in three women (30 percent) who was in a relationship with a man experienced physical or sexual violence from at least from one partner. Moreover, 38 percent of women who were murdered worldwide were killed by their partners. The economic burden of violence against women is estimated at two percent of the global gross domestic product, which amounts to about $1.5 trillion.

According to the social justice group think tank Adva, the estimated cost of incarcerating domestic violence offenders in Israel is about 389 million shekels a year ($113.4 million). This is the largest amount of money invested by Israel to eradicate domestic violence.

In response, the Israel Prison Service said that treating prisoners and offering them an opportunity to rehabilitate and "return to society as a useful and law-abiding citizen" lies at the heart of what they do. They added: "Rehabilitation programs are modular and built in stages over the course of the incarceration, depending on its length, and require the cooperation and consent of the prisoner. In treatment of sexual and domestic violence offenders, the emphasis is on changing and acquiring new patterns of behavior."

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