Israel's Shelters for Battered Women Aren’t Enough

In the past half decade, 109 women have been murdered by their partner or a relative. The country needs a comprehensive program for addressing family violence.

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Anastasia Rusanov, whose body was found at her Rishon Letzion apartment on May 25,2016.
Anastasia Rusanov, whose body was found at her Rishon Letzion apartment on May 25,2016Credit: Facebook page
Haaretz Editorial

Anastasia Rusanov and her partner were murdered in Rishon Letzion last week. The suspect, whom the police shot and killed Saturday, was Rusanov’s former partner. Rusanov left the battered women’s shelter where she had been staying a few days before her murder. She was there for only a few hours.

Her decision to leave against the advice of the shelter’s staff is not unusual. According to figures compiled by the NGO No to Violence Against Women, 22 percent of women leave a shelter in less than a week. In most cases, when they leave there is still a viable threat against their lives.

Since 2011, 109 women have been murdered in Israel by their partner or a relative, eight of them this year alone. In many cases the women are murdered after they file a police complaint. In some cases the women have been granted a restraining order, but the man threatening them has breached it and the police don’t arrest him for doing so.

From January to October 2015, 515 restraining orders were breached by violent men. These numbers, and even more so the Rusanov case, show that the establishment of shelters for battered women can be no more than a stopgap emergency measure.

The shelters are not meant to be long-term solutions for women and their children, and they offer limited protection considering that less than a quarter of violent men whose partners are in a shelter are banned from their homes by a restraining order or are in custody. (Some 56 percent of these men continue to live at home.) In many cases, the existence of the shelter makes it possible to blame the victim for not going to the shelter or for leaving it. This helps absolve the authorities.

In September 2014 an interministerial committee was set up to “deal with the phenomenon of family violence” it submitted its recommendations a year later. This advice includes establishing a special police detail for addressing family violence, opening additional residential facilities for men who batter women, granting benefits to women who leave battered women’s shelters, and sharing information such as criminal records and medical information among the agencies addressing family violence.

Six months have passed since the committee submitted its recommendations, but little progress has been made. In February it was decided to establish a committee of ministry director generals, but this panel has met only once.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has now pledged that by 2017 six rehabilitation facilities for men who batter women will be set up throughout the country. On Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss a bill initiated by Meretz chief Zehava Galon and written with the Public Security Ministry that would require the police to arrest and investigate men who breach restraining orders.

These are positive steps but they must not be the main message in the struggle against such a broad phenomenon. The government must launch a comprehensive program to fight family violence after implementing the plan now before it.

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