As police continued to hunt for convicted rapist Benny Sela, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel noted a marked rise in the number of calls received at its 24-hour hot line.
"We do not have exact figures yet, but all the centers countrywide are reporting a rise in the number of calls," Sharon Mayevski, spokeswoman for the association, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Figures released just last week, in time for the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, indicated that there had already been a 20 percent rise in the number of calls received by the center in the first half of 2006.
"I am sure that when we check the figures for these few days we will see an even greater jump," she said.
Despite the obvious fear that many women might be feeling now that the country's most notorious serial rapist is on the loose, Mayevski noted that in the statistics compiled by the association last week, only 11% of all reported rapes were committed by complete strangers. Rather, she said, some 90% of women find they are the victims of sexual crimes by someone they know.
"Even while I am talking to you, there are many women being hurt by their partners, fathers or someone else they know," noted Mayevski. "Benny Sela is only one example; there are many new rapists and victims every day."
Orit Leibovitch, a clinical psychologist and hot line coordinator in Jerusalem for the association, also emphasized this point, but she said it was natural for all women - whether they had been victims or not - to feel more vulnerable now that Sela was on the loose.
As for the many victims of Sela's crimes, Leibovitch pointed out that they were most likely feeling fearful and experiencing vivid flashbacks to the crime itself.
"Even though these women are told that he [Sela] won't be able to come back and find them, it does not really help," said Leibovitch. "The fear comes from an irrational place."
Leibovitch also said that even victims of similar attacks would be likely experiencing trauma right now. "While the general public is probably feeling angry that this man has committed these crimes, rape victims are probably experiencing a deeper internal fear and shock," she said, adding that because the authorities failed to keep this man locked up, many rape and sexual assault victims might now feel there was no serious protection out there for them.
Mayevski blasted the authorities for allowing Sela to get away and said they were certainly not doing enough to bring the suspect back into custody.
"A criminal has escaped, and aside from pictures in the media, no one knows what he looks like," she said, admitting that while she did not have experience in conducting a manhunt, a visit to Tel Aviv Saturday night did not reveal any great police presence searching for Sela. "They need to put up photos of him in the streets so that people will recognize him."
Mayevski added: "I am sure there will be an internal investigation into the matter but that will not really help his victims, who will have to go through this all again."
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel hot line can be reached at 1202 for women and 1203 for men.