Domestic abuse reports to WhatsApp hotline spike by 95% amid COVID-19

The Committee for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality in the Knesset announced on Monday that sexual abuse cases rose by 33% throughout the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ACTIVISTS PROTEST against recent cases of violence against women at Habima Square in Tel Aviv last week. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
ACTIVISTS PROTEST against recent cases of violence against women at Habima Square in Tel Aviv last week.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Amid the coronavirus crisis, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) saw a 95% increase in reporting activity to its national WhatsApp hotline, the organization reported ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Wednesday.
These staggering numbers surface on the backdrop of 20 women who have been murdered in acts of domestic violence this year across the country. Despite the staggering numbers, two-thirds of sexual assault cases were closed by the judiciary wing due to lack of evidence.
The Committee for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality in the Knesset announced on Monday that sexual abuse cases rose by 33% throughout the country amid the coronavirus, with 62% of cases being against minors.
In honor of the internationally-recognized day dedicated to eliminating domestic abuse, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, in partnership with the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), will submit a bill for approval in the Knesset, which deems that men who have a restraining order against them due to domestic violence will be required to seek treatment. Until now, a judge may only consider treatment after choosing to evaluate the perpetrator, an option that was seldom used.
The law would require the judge to order the defendant to have a violence evaluation done, which would assess the possibility of treatment based on suitability. In the case of Wafa Abahara, who was murdered last week by her ex-husband – and he has still not been caught by police – if the judge had considered the option of giving him treatment when she had initially filed a restraining order, he may not have murdered her as he has allegedly done.
“We want an initiative in the Knesset to send men to therapy,” Anita Friedman, chairwoman of World WIZO, told The Jerusalem Post. “This is a societal problem; it’s not a women’s issue. Unless we change the way that we see this and take care of it the way it should be taken care of, we cannot see it changing.”
EMOTIONAL TREATMENT for violent men has proven to be a successful tactic for combating violent tendencies, according to a study published in 2018 by WIZO and Bar-Ilan University. Since then, a number of women’s organizations in Israel have offered treatment for men with such tendencies, but such things may only be accessed voluntarily – that is, unless Touma-Sliman’s proposed bill passes into law.
“Violence against women is not just a criminal matter, but a social and psychological one,” Touma-Sliman said. “It's time to understand the treatment of violent men as an integral part of the fight against violence – because treated men are less dangerous men.”
In light of the growing number of domestic and sexual abuse cases, 45 MKs signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to establish a national authority for combatting domestic violence. The letter was signed by politicians from across the political spectrum, including coalition chairman Miki Zohar, opposition leader Yair Lapid, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and former Tourism minister and Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir.  
“The treatment of the issue of violence is distributed between the different governmental ministries without any strategy, leadership, inclusion, cooperation or coordination,” stated the letter, formulated by WIZO. “This is the time for the establishment of an authority that will establish, plan and conduct a comprehensive policy of treatment, rehabilitation and prevention, and outline and implement the national policy on the phenomenon of domestic violence in Israel.”
Netanyahu approved of the call for such a national authority on Tuesday during a Knesset conference marking early the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
NETANYAHU FACED major backlash following the event when he made a comment during his speech comparing women and children victims of domestic abuse to animals in an analogy meant to present the double standard of the public’s perception of domestic abuse in contrast to animal abuse.
Upon his return from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu remarked, “Sara and I have visited shelters for abused women, and the stories are horrifying. You see these people, and they are like a scared animal that is being constantly hit – and she is trying to run away from one corner of the cage to another.”
Shortly thereafter, he said that “women… are not animals that you can hit, and today we say that even animals you do not hit. We understand that there is insight and intelligence and cognition and emotions in animals, too. And we are compassionate towards animals, and as we should be. Women are animals. Children are animals: Animals with rights.”
The Finance Committee on Tuesday remarked that NIS 100 million must be transferred immediately to combat violence against women.
“There was a plan of NIS 250 million that was not implemented, and we are requesting a budget for it to be implemented,” said the committee’s chairman MK Moshe Gafni. “We demand that you transfer NIS 100 million immediately.”
The budget Gafni was referring to is one for a domestic violence prevention program, which was announced in the Knesset in 2017. It dictated that throughout the five years following the launch, the government would allocate a total of NIS 250 million to programs aimed at battling abuse. Now three years later, only NIS 50m. has been allocated to the project.
THE NUMBER of calls to the ARCCI hotline in 2020 so far has risen by 24% in contrast to the number of calls made in 2019, most of which were seen during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with 37% more people called the hotline.
The Negev Crisis Center saw a doubling (a 103% increase) of cases – the largest spike in the country.
Reported sexual assault is most commonly done against people that the victims already knew, with 88% of victims saying that they knew the person who attacked them beforehand. Almost two-thirds (64%) of sexual assaults in which the victims are 12 years old or younger are done by family members.
The country is filled with activities dedicated to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The Tel Aviv Municipality building, in honor of the occasion, will be lit up in red with the word, “Enough!” lit up on it. In addition, the streets in the city are filled with educational signs about how to recognize abusive behavior.
Breaking Walls, an Israeli movement against violence towards women, is holding an inauguration on Tuesday evening of a monument located in central Tel Aviv to honor the victims who have died due to gender-based violence. The placard will have the names of victims and will be presented in a ceremony during which the name of each victim will be read aloud.
In addition, the Kfar Saba Culture Hall will display a wall of 20 works of art inspired by quotes from women who were victims of domestic violence. The installation, titled “It begins with words and ends with deeds,” will be opened on Wednesday in a ceremony which will invite the public to come and light a candle in memory of the 20 victims who were killed due to domestic violence in 2020.