Sexual abuse reports rose by 33% in Israel during COVID-19 pandemic

"Am I different because the eye does not see my injury? I suffered a very severe dissociative episode and I got to a point that I am not proud of with a very deep cut which endangered my life."

A protester holding an "Abuse isn't Love" sign at a protest against violence against women in Tel Aviv (photo credit: TAMAR BEERI)
A protester holding an "Abuse isn't Love" sign at a protest against violence against women in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: TAMAR BEERI)
Sexual abuse cases rose by 33% in Israel during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the Knesset Committee on Advancing the Status of Women, released to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.
The report, “Shadow of an Epidemic: Implications of the Coronavirus Crisis on Victims of Sexual Violence,” found that minors were the victims in 62% of the reports of sexual assault received by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.
“There is a very large increase of 33% in sexual assault and incest within families, and the tremendous price of the outbreak will be paid over many years,” said Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the association.
While 42% of those who turn to the police say they did not know the person who abused them, the majority of people who come to the rape crisis centers knew the abusers as part of their own family.
Communal Strengthening and Development Minister Orly Levy-Abecassis and MK Osnat Hila Mark announced that they will work with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new national authority that will combat domestic violence.
“I am committed to investing all of my strength and all of the power of my ministry in a national authority to combat domestic violence,” Levy-Abecassis said.
Netanyahu said that “as an open, modern society we must rip out this violence from the root. Family should be a shelter, a place where we can escape the injuries of the world. It is becoming a terror cell where women and children live under the perpetual threat of violence.”
Sulitzeanu said that dedicated courts for sexual offenses must be established because otherwise the reality will not change.
“There has been an increase in appeals to the association through WhatsApp. Mental health is a necessity at this time. We want to increase the budget to NIS 12 million because we are collapsing.”
Sulitzeanu called for the appointment of a special commissioner to address the needs of victims of sexual violence. “Tens of thousands must not be left unanswered. The consequences of the pandemic will continue to have an effect, and we must prevent further deterioration,” she said.
SOME 50% of psychiatric inpatients have a history of sexual assault, said MK Yoav Segalovich, stating that the “Health Ministry is not doing enough” as “there is no comprehensive treatment for the trauma of victims of sexual assault and this affects generations to come.”
Committee chairman Oded Forer said, “You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that when people are closed up in a house in a lockdown, when a million workers go into unemployment, when businesses collapse – the threshold of stress and sensitivity deteriorates and leads to events that we would encounter less in standard periods, and there is an increase in all these events, especially violence in families.”
The Yisrael Beytenu MK stressed that the data presented are only a small part of the whole picture, as many cases are still unreported.
MK Sondos Saleh said “anyone who thought the pandemic would stop a sex offender from assaulting women or girls is simply wrong. The sex offender will continue despite the coronavirus, he will simply use different tools.”
Saleh added that there has been a decrease in the number of indictments, with 70% of cases closed within less than half a year. The Joint List lawmaker stated that the failure to make punishments more severe will just lead to more sexual abuse.
Oshrat Shoham, head of the Sexual Offenses Forum at the State Attorney’s Office, told the committee that the data they had showed that 86% of cases were closed and that this was similar to cases with other crimes, as many cases are closed due to lack of evidence and some are closed due to lack of guilt. The Rape Crisis Centers reported that 92% of cases were closed.
Shoham added that they are trying to improve investigations, but because reports are often filed late, finding evidence for events that happened a decade ago can be difficult.
Tohar Shani Zeitoun, 28, told the committee about her experience.
“At the age of 19, I went through a very cruel rape, which like an abyss dropped me into the post-trauma world. The fact that the world has stopped working and that a mask must be put on, that it is impossible to go out – is a bit of what post-trauma victims feel,” she said. “If a reasonable person in the coronavirus period feels some kind of trauma, then for me, they added another big stone in the bag I am carrying.
“How am I different from patients in oncology departments?” said Zeitoun. “Am I different because you can’t see my injury?
“The state was turning its back on me and cases were closing due to lack of evidence. The mask blocks my mouth and tells me I should shut up,” added Zeitoun. “When it is bad on the inside and rotten – everything is worthless in your eyes.”