Domestic violence in Israel: ‘Victims are no longer afraid to speak out’
Since the beginning of 2022, 492 women were accommodated in shelters, including 190 Arabs
Beatings, rapes, murders, threats, blackmail, harassment – more than 200,000 women in Israel are victims of domestic violence each year, and only a quarter of them report it to authorities.
However, nowadays, the discourse around domestic violence is considerably freer. Women are less hesitant to accuse their abusers and ask for help, in a seemingly first step towards eradicating this scourge.
On average, 20 women are murdered each year in Israel, and data shows that more than half of them knew their killer.
In 2020, the Israeli police opened 20,326 cases of physical violence and threats between spouses. In 87 percent of those cases, the victim was a woman.
Such violence concerns all socio-professional categories and religions.
The only way to tackle the phenomenon is through the reformation of the police, both at the stage of collecting evidence and testimonies – which is the responsibility of the police – and at the stage of indictment and prosecution of suspects, which is the responsibility of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
New types of violence
With the arrival of Covid in 2020, many women have found themselves locked in their homes facing violent spouses. Between 2019 and 2020, physical violence and threats between spouses notably jumped by 11 percent.
"In recent years, we have seen an increase in domestic violence, Covid did not help since there was an increase in divorces soon after," Johanna Kupfer, a lawyer in Israel's Tel Aviv, told i24NEWS.
While physical domestic violence represents a large majority of complaints, new forms of violence gradually emerged as well.
"The courts tend to increase the notion of violence because today, physical violence is no longer the only one that it recognized, economic violence is also recognized,” Kupfer explained.
“The simple fact of holding back one's spouse by using financial blackmail so that the victim does not have the means to divorce is now synonymous with violence.”
Computer violence – which consists of hacking into and controlling a partner's phone – is also recognized as a type of violence.
When women decide to take the plunge and alert the institutions dealing with violence against them, they find themselves faced with the limits of a system that is still too weak to truly help.
Victims poorly represented
In Israel, the fight against domestic violence is very real, but the absence of a civil party complicates the position of the victim.
A victim has no place in the proceedings, is not represented by a lawyer, and is only rarely present at the trial to testify, except in cases of serious violence or a sexual offense.
"The main difficulty is that in Israel, only the Prosecutor's Office is in contact with the victim, it represents the State. But the interests of the State are not necessarily those of the victim,” Kupfer told i24NEWS, adding that the rights of victims are very limited in Israel.
“I think we should improve the place of the victim in the criminal procedure and review the place of the civil party as is the case in France, where the victim can make requests, participate in the trial, and possibly, just after the hearing, there may be a civil hearing.”
In Israel, when women find the courage to file a complaint, they can benefit from a protection order – a legal order that provides emergency protection to victims of domestic violence.
A police officer can issue a protection order for a specified period, prohibiting the accused from approaching the accuser at their place of work or their home. An extension can then be requested from the court.
However, almost 78 percent of domestic violence cases are dismissed or end in a "guilty plea.”
Between 2019 and 2020, 476 files were closed this way. Almost three-fourths of cases closed were closed for lack of evidence, 14 percent were closed because the circumstances of the case were not prosecutable, and about eight percent of cases were closed for lack of guilt.
Additionally, in 2020, 723 women stayed in shelters that accommodate victims, compared to 653 in 2019, according to data compiled by Israel’s parliament.
It also found that 182 women and 322 children are currently in 16 shelters, two of which are for Arabs and three others for a mixed population.
Since the beginning of 2022, 492 women have been accommodated, including 190 Arabs, according to figures from Israel’s Social Protection Ministry.
Women are no longer silent
While for the time being the penalties incurred by the defendants are rather limited, the voices of victims are becoming preponderant, partly due to social media and the #MeToo movement, but also because of awareness on the part of the women after the Covid pandemic.
"It's almost a fashionable subject, every day we hear a new case in the media, it's much more often than ten years ago,” said Béatrice Coscas-Willams, a lecturer in law at the Western Galilee College in northern Israel.
“With the coronavirus, women realized that they could no longer be silent and that they did not deserve to experience violent episodes. Previously, they wanted above all to preserve their home, but now they want to share their experiences and understand that what is happening to them is not normal,” she told i24NEWS.
"There is a real need for understanding, acceptance, and knowing how to get help," she said.
Who to turn to for help
According to Coscas-Williams, in Israel’s French-speaking community, the lack of knowledge of the penal and legal system can put victims "in danger of death."
"In the context of domestic violence, the abuser will try to restrict the victim's openness to the world and the fact of not knowing where to turn to or being able to express themselves freely will confine them even more,” she said.
“Language problems and difficulty in accessing services can really accentuate the phenomenon.”
To overcome the difficulties encountered by most victims, the law expert is in the process of setting up an association with a committee of ten women and fifty volunteers, which is expected to see the light of day in October.
"Our goal is to enable anyone who has been assaulted or abused in their home to have access to psychological or social assistance, and to justice,” Coscas-Williams told i24NEWS.
“The volunteers will accompany these people to the police to file a complaint or to the hospital. We will serve as a bridge between the victim and the institutions so that they have access to their rights and to the services that the State offers.”
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced that more than $59 million was allocated for the prevention and treatment of domestic violence.