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In the Shadow of Coronavirus Lurks a Plague That Kills Off Women

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A woman attends a protest against violence against women, Tel Aviv, December 20, 2019
A woman attends a protest against violence against women, Tel Aviv, December 20, 2019Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

In the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic there are women facing an increasing risk to their lives as victims of domestic violence. Since the beginning of the year six women have been murdered by their partners and one baby by its father. One of the slain women is Mastawal Alaza, 31, a mother of two, who was murdered on the eve of Independence Day.

A long series of failures led to her murder. Mastawal, who immigrated from Ethiopia in 2005, had been sent to a shelter for battered women after reporting that her husband Mandpru had attacked and injured her, and threatened to kill her if she reported him to the police. She only survived in the shelter for about two weeks.

Figures issued by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry show that about 30 percent of women staying in shelters for battered women are of Ethiopian origin yet most of the shelters haven’t adapted to that fact and suffer from a shortage of Amharic-speaking social workers.

Mandpru was imprisoned for eight months for assaulting Mastawal. Haaretz reporter Bar Peleg wrote that she had sought the assistance of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department and initiated divorce proceedings while her husband was in prison, but changed her mind because he terrorized her with threats. The municipal welfare department and the social worker handling her case said they were unaware of this background.

A national plan to combat violence against women, whose implementation has been delayed, includes a lifesaving proposal to establish a database to enable information sharing on domestic violence cases among government ministries and local authorities. The proposal has been made in light of the many instances where a lack of coordination among the authorities and gaps in information have undermined the continuity of treatment, sometimes leading to disaster.

Absurdly, in the prisons, which are supposed to be the final stop for violent men, advanced therapeutic programs for preventing domestic violence are available, but in the community, where these men could be treated after initial instances of violence, such programs are not to be found. A paper published by the Adva Center in 2017 says: “The estimated cost of maintenance for prisoners serving for crimes of violence and sex is about 389 million shekel ($110 million) a year. Comparatively speaking, this is the largest sum invested by the government for eliminating domestic violence.”

But Mandpru was not sent to therapy in prison, either. He was not entitled to participate in the program because he had served a sentence of less than a year. In addition, although a report by the parole board emphasized that he was dangerous, after eight months he received administrative release, without any obligation to undergo therapy, without any supervision, and without an electronic cuff or any other conditions for his release.

In Israel there are only two rehabilitation centers for violent men forced to keep a distance away from their homes by court order, or by police. Both frameworks house only a few dozen men a year, and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority operates only one hostel for men who have served a prison sentence for domestic violence.

Men imprisoned for domestic violence should be required to undergo therapy inside and outside of prison, and the solutions offered to abusive husbands should also be expanded, but the government has delayed a transfer of funds earmarked for implementing a national program to combat domestic violence. In 2019, for example, 2.8 million shekels were transferred, instead of the promised 18 million.

Domestic violence is also a plague. A transparent plague. The time has come to eliminate it. It is important to accelerate the transfer of budgets for dealing with this phenomenon, and to distance and isolate the men who carry the violent virus - rather than the women who suffer from violence - so that these men may recover before they cause their families more profound damage.

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