Break the Conspiracy of Silence Around Domestic Violence. It Can Save Lives

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Red shoes are laid out at a protest against violence against women, Tel Aviv, December 4, 2018
Red shoes are laid out at a protest against violence against women, Tel Aviv, December 4, 2018Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

It’s been eight months since Eliran Malul murdered his wife Michal Sela. In a touching film, the first part of which aired yesterday on the “Uvda” program, Sela’s sisters recounted the tale of the couple’s love up to its horrifying end. Over the time that the couple was together, the sisters did not notice anything seriously amiss. Since the murder they have started a project aimed at teaching people how to recognize the early signs that a marriage is turning into a violent prison.

A very nice idea, but it still does not provide an answer to the broader problem that we as a society need to acknowledge: What do you do when you know? What are we, as friends and neighbors, supposed to do when we hear the yelling, besides call the police? How is it that, after so many years and so many such murders across the spectrum of Israeli society, these women are not being given a helping hand to pull them out of this pit?

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The answer may lie in the text on the Keshet website that accompanies the report. “An attempt to understand in retrospect the hell in which Michal lived. How such a special, independent, free-spirited and intelligent woman finds herself in a relationship made up of control, force, jealousy and obsession and keeps this prison to herself.”

I have nothing critical to say about Roni Kuban, who did his work here with much sensitivity. But this nuance is a central narrative in the discourse about women trapped in domestic violence – the judgmental questions: “How could she not see it? Why didn’t she leave?” and the placement of responsibility for leaving, for walking out, on the victim instead of on us as a society.

Saying “How could she not see it?” essentially equals a disavowal of societal responsibility and presumes that falling in love is a rational thing. That the victim was supposed to analyze the partner’s advantages and drawbacks with a psychologist’s skill, up to the emotional big bang. It’s also an insulting presumption that holds the woman at fault for “not noticing” the signs. And if she did notice, but repressed it? What does it matter?

Perhaps our judgmental stance as a society, the label that we stick even on someone who gets divorced due to incompatibility, the sense of shame and failure for “not having noticed,” the helplessness due to the ineffectual authorities that fail to keep a violent man locked up for a long time, the minimal attention given to the subject by men and by the hegemonic centers of power – maybe all of this makes women think that the bad and the familiar are preferable to the difficult and the humiliating.

Struggles waged in recent years within the religious-Zionist public over the problem of men who refuse to grant their wife a get (religious Jewish divorce) have led to a change in outlook. Such men are now subjected to public humiliation and social ostracism, whether with the state’s encouragement or due to community initiatives. There may be something to be learned here. It's beggars belief that there are thousands of violent men among us who beat their partners, while their neighbors and friends and parents are aware of it, and these men just go off to work in the morning – to the clinic or the law firm or to drive a truck – without any massive societal pressure that would make them realize that they are unwanted in human society.

The number of cases – two more women were murdered by their partners just this past week – necessitates a new way of thinking. Another million shekels for a shelter for battered women is welcome, but if we don’t find a way as a society to change our image of women who are in this situation, if we don’t stop blaming them, even if just indirectly and implicitly – it will keep on happening. This is not a decree of fate. It’s in our hands.

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