Head to Head / Ruth Rasnic, Founder of Combat Violence Against Women

Ruth Rasnic received the Israel Prize in 2009 for Lifetime Achievement and a special contribution to society and the country for her activity in the struggle to end violence against women. Rasnic was a founder of the feminist movement in Israel and worked for civil rights; she founded L.O. - Combat Violence Against Women, and the first shelter in Israel for battered women. Tomorrow is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, while in the background newspaper headlines continue to report acts of murder in the family and sexual crimes against women.

Ruth Rasnic, for how many years have we been seeing the same routine in complaints about sexual crimes: The plaintiffs hide behind initials and blurred pictures, while suspected men in positions of power slander them in order to deter them from complaining. What has to be done to change this?

Only to punish those men more severely. To this day I'm afraid that such things are not considered a crime or an offense in the eyes of the public, particularly when it comes to men in positions of power. On the contrary, it adds to their masculinity ... We saw Itzik Mordechai, and we saw the former president, we are seeing the candidate for police commissioner now, maybe he is no longer a candidate. People in positions of power in particular have to be so careful, have to maintain their integrity, more than anyone else. I think men have to know that the zipper in their pants is there in order to stay closed.

The price of this phenomenon is that most women are not willing to speak up. Because afterwards someone approaches them and they become victims for a second and third time through the exposure alone. It's simply a terrible thing. What happened in the affair of Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev and O. is an unparalleled scandal. They revealed her name, they revealed her pictures in such a way that anyone who knows her knows for certain who she is, they revealed her profession. There is no question that anyone who knows the woman knows who is being discussed, and that is not what the legislator intended when he spoke about the immunity of the victim. It's a matter of unparalleled gravity.

What has to be done to prevent it?

The people who expose them should be put on trial. No photo should be allowed that's not very blurred, nor should the person's profession be revealed. In her case her profession is very unusual. There's nobody else in the country with such a profession ... and that's very serious. I think women have to rise up against the phenomenon.

I'm only happy that in Israeli society these things come up and are being exposed, because that's part of the cultural change. You can be a director general, a president, a potential police commissioner, but you won't remain so the moment courageous women or courageous men get up and complain ... The more women point out men who harass, who don't consider a woman's right to decide what happens with her body, the more women speak about it, the more they will change the atmosphere and force these men to be considered criminals.

They say that O. complained now of all times in order to prevent Bar-Lev from being appointed police commissioner.

I don't think she did that, someone else dragged her into this story. I think she decided not to make a big deal of it for her own reasons, because she knows the price she is paying and she knows how much other women have paid.

The hardest thing is to complain about a person with whom you're in close contact on a daily basis. That's one of the hardest things ... You always think: "Who will they believe? Him or me?" When I hear stories of that kind, I specifically take the side of the plaintiff. I know that she's telling the truth. False complaints are rare.

Tomorrow is the day dedicated to ending violence against women. What has been achieved in the struggle, and what remains to be achieved?

I'm very happy that in today's Israel it has received the importance it deserves, in the Knesset, in the press, so that people will know and understand that violence against women is violence against any person. As long as there's a single woman who's a victim of violence, the men in her family are not free of this suffering either. As long as there's a battered woman, her son will be a victim of violence. Children grow up in a violent home, meet with children from a nonviolent home, and this is expressed in language, in body language, in violence in the school, on the highway and on the soccer field. Everything is connected to everything else.

We have made progress. We're not in a bad position at all when it comes to activity, but the road ahead is very long and the government has to do much more. First of all, to invest more money in education, because every penny you invest in prevention saves many thousands of dollars in taking care of criminals. The government must see that the victim comes before the criminal, and the victim must be helped. The government must provide a housing solution for women who flee from their husbands.

The police have changed their direction a great deal, and there really is more cooperation between the police and social welfare services. What is not working well is the cooperation between the social welfare services and the medical services that safeguard immunity.

On the issue of "honor" killings, the government does not intervene enough. There are two shelters in the country for Arab women, and Arab women also come to the general shelters, but there are no follow-up solutions, and they can be pursued after they leave.

What message do you have for women who have been victims of all types of violence?

Don't keep quiet, but at the same time don't risk your lives. It's very easy for me to say don't keep quiet when I live a serene and pastoral life with a nonviolent partner. If you go and file a complaint and you don't follow it up, then think twice what the results will be and consult with well known groups that can help you. Consult with emergency hotlines. We have a hotline with a team of volunteers 24 hours a day; the phone number is 1-800-353-300. That's a number that can be called at any time to ask for advice. If you aren't sure, we don't tell a woman to complain to the police. She has to feel enough self-confidence because sometimes it can cost her dearly. She'll file a complaint and then go back home and suffer twice as many beatings. That's a decision that only she can make. We can only open her eyes to the fact that the price will be very high, but it's very important that if you've decided, then do it. Because you're actually saving your children too.