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Thirty-eight percent of women who phoned the National Hotline for Battered Women and Children at Risk over the past year reported that they had been victims of emotional and verbal abuse by their partners, according to figures compiled by the hotline ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to be marked worldwide on Saturday.
"More and more women are realizing that the spoken word, if used in a negative sense, can also be a serious form of violence," Shoham Carmi, director of the hotline, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "Emotional and economic abuse against women is growing too."
"With these kinds of violence, there are no physical signs," explained Carmi. "But it could mean, for example, that a husband controls the purse strings, takes the woman's wages and forces her to abide by his rules."
Nurit Kaufmann, Director of Violence Against Women at WIZO, which runs the hotline in partnership with the Social Affairs Ministry, said that frequently this kind of violence can cause a victim much more long-term damage than any physical attack.
"Broken bones can be repaired," she said. "An attack of words can penetrate deeper than that. It could cause a woman to stop believing in herself."
Kaufmann said the figures could not be compared to previous years because WIZO only began running the hot line in 2005.
The organization also reported Wednesday that from December 2005 through today, 18 women had been murdered either by family members or by partners, including victims of so-called honor killings, up from 16 last year and 12 in 2004.
"It is a terrible statistic," said Carmi. "The fact that so many organizations are dealing with violence against women or violence in the family and this figure stays the same means that there is not enough awareness of the services that can help protect women in violent relationships."
She said that WIZO was planning to launch a new countrywide campaign to highlight the options available to assist women and provide them with protection from violent husbands, boyfriends, brothers or fathers.
"We have to get the word out that there are people who want to help, that there are people who can protect them," she said.
According to the data, the hot line received 4,960 calls between May 2005 and April 2006, with the highest amount of traffic being recorded last November (727 calls in one month). More than 70% of calls over the year were from women reporting violence within the family unit.
Forty percent, or 1,518 of the callers reported that they had been victims of physical violence, 432 reported violent threats, 154 economic abuse and 80 sexual attacks.
While close to half the calls came from Israeli women, Carmi noted that a growing number of requests for help came from within the Ethiopian and Russian immigrant community.
She said that this year, in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, WIZO would be focusing its attention on how to help reduce violence in that sector with a one-day symposium entitled: "There is a Way Out," to be held Thursday at the Zionist House of America in Tel Aviv.
Out of the 18 women murdered so far this year, four were of Ethiopian descent and two were formerly from Russia, said Kaufmann.
The hotline can be reached on 1-800-220-000 and provides counseling services in Hebrew, Amharic, Arabic and Russian.