Israel's victims of domestic violence tell their stories in new AI project

"I was Michal Sela. In 2019, I was murdered by the man who was my husband. Today, I call on you, listen to my voice."

 Israelis light candles in memory of women murdered in domestic violence, at a set up memorial on Rothschild Boulevard, ahead of International Day of Violence Against Women. November 24, 2020.  (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israelis light candles in memory of women murdered in domestic violence, at a set up memorial on Rothschild Boulevard, ahead of International Day of Violence Against Women. November 24, 2020.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Israeli victims of domestic violence have been given back their voices in order to tell their stories through a new project using artificial intelligence.

The project, titled, "Listen to our Voices," was created in response to the global surge in domestic violence and in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which takes place on November 25.

An English language clip of the new "Listen to our Voices" campaign created in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. (VIDEO CREDIT: DIBOOR SPOKESPERSON)

The families of domestic violence victims have partnered with women's rights activists in order to create an innovative approach to tackling domestic violence. 

The stories of five victims of domestic violence have been brought to life with the help of advanced AI technology created by Israeli company D-ID. 

The five domestic violence victims featured in the campaign are Michal Sela, Esther Aharonovitch, Marin Haj-Yahya, Esther Barhani and Sagit Ozeri. The dynamic recreations of their faces and movements are accompanied by voiceovers by Israeli actresses whose voices bring their stories to life.

Protesters gather in Tel Aviv to protest the rising domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)Protesters gather in Tel Aviv to protest the rising domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

The campaign aims to generate new discourse on the issue of domestic violence in several key areas.

Firstly, the misconception that domestic murder cases are always preceded by physical violence is dangerous, as women in non-violent dangerous relationships do not realize they are in danger despite other warning signs being present. The campaign hopes that it will raise awareness around other signs of domestic abuse, alerting women to the high potential for danger that their relationships may have.

Additionally, many domestic murders occur after a woman has already attempted to separate from her husband, but does so in a way that ultimately fails to keep her safe. D-ID's campaign offers practical tools and advice for women who need to escape their husbands in a safe way.

One of the most crucial aspects that the campaign hopes to raise awareness for and change, is the stigma surrounding domestic abuse. The highly stigmatized and inaccurate portrayal of battered, weak women being trapped in dependant abusive relationships means that women in danger fail to recognize the warning signs in their own lives as they do not identify with these portrayals. The campaign highlights the voices and stories of women from all sectors, of all ages, and all walks of life, showing that domestic violence can, and does, happen to anyone. 

And indeed, the campaign highlights just that. Michal Sela was murdered in 2019 at the age of 32 by her husband after attempting to leave their family home. She was murdered in front of their daughter and her husband was found guilty of the crime in October of this year. The chilling video clip, voiced by actress Mali Levy, begins: "I was Michal Sela. In 2019, I was murdered by the man who was my husband. Today, I call on you, listen to my voice."

As for the other women, their stories are no less tragic. 

Esther Aharonovitch was murdered at the age of 70 by her second husband, a doctor she had been married to for a decade. Prior to the murder, he subjected her to severe economic and psychological violence, but never physical. Without going to the police or sharing details of the abuse with anyone, she began to make arrangements to separate from her husband. The day the separation became finalized, her husband murdered her with his personal gun.

Marin Haj-Yahya was 29 at the time of her murder and was a medic and older sister to four brothers. She married her husband after meeting him two months prior and almost immediately became the victim of severe physical and financial violence. After falling pregnant, she was beaten by her husband and burned alive in their car. Neither she nor the unborn baby survived.

Esther Barhani was a 50-year-old pharmacist who lived with her husband and their one son. Her husband was prone to violent outbursts and had threatened her life on more than one occasion. Despite separating from her husband, he continued to live in her home, saying he would stay until he found a place of his own. One day he returned home and shot her in the kitchen, while their son looked on.

The fifth and final face of the campaign is that of Sagit Ozeri, who was murdered by her partner at the young age of 23. Throughout the duration of their short relationship, her partner quickly turned from loving and caring to manipulative and obsessive. Seeking to escape, Ozeri called her father and asked him to rescue her. While her father was waiting for her outside, Ozeri's partner strangled her to death.

The AI project was unveiled at a UN panel by Lili Ben Ami, sister of Michal Sela, who has become a leading voice in Israel's fight against domestic violence since the murder of her sister.

Haim Bibas, Chairman of Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, commented on the project, calling it "a very brave campaign, which penetrates each and every one of us.

With the airing of the campaign, every local authority prepared a list of phone numbers of relevant welfare departments to which women and men suffering from domestic violence can call in order to grant them professional assistance with proper guidance and help. We want to make sure people understand that they aren't alone."

While these are just five stories, the difference between each one, whether in age, location, or even economic status aims to raise awareness of the different ways in which violence can present itself in domestic settings.

In Israel, 20 women are murdered each year in domestic violence cases on average. These cases are documented across Israeli media, and their names become public knowledge. However, the campaign aims to raise awareness for the hundreds of thousands of women who experience violence or marital abuse by their spouses, whether physical, emotional, financial and allow them a chance to escape to safety, before the worst-case scenario occurs.