Letter from Herzog saves rape victims program

NGOs disappointed proposed cuts were kept secret.

Isaac Herzog 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Isaac Herzog 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A program aimed at providing victims of rape and prostitution with emergency and holistic treatment, which was touted by the previous government as a "completely new way of treating rape victims," was saved at the last minute from drastic budget cuts this week after a letter explaining the program's merits was sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by Welfare and Social Services Minister of Isaac Herzog, The Jerusalem Post has learned. "It has come to my attention that budget cuts to the Prime Minister's Office also include cutting back on program's aimed at helping women," Herzog wrote in the letter, which was sent to the prime minister on Sunday. "We have already started expanding our treatment of these women and invested millions of shekels in improving our services... Any cuts to this budget will put this country backwards in terms of its treatment of these women and will stop the help we are already giving to hundreds of women." A response from the Prime Minister's Office stated that the slated budget cuts of NIS 17 million from the NIS 20m. program had indeed been blocked by the office's director-general Eyal Gabai. However, a spokeswoman for the office would not comment on whether the program is at risk from cutbacks in the future. "I am very disappointed that changes to this program were even considered by the government," said Michal Rozin, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers. "However, it is even worse that we had to hear about such a proposal from the media and not in a more organized and open way." According to Rozin, even those involved in running the program in both the Prime Minister's Office, which oversees its budget, and at the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, who are responsible for its operation, heard about the plans to slash funding down to NIS 3m. from media reports. "It's a real crime that this is how the government negotiates its economic policies," said Rozin, who has been a political lobbyist for many years. "Just think about the women who are already receiving treatment from the program, how hard it must have been for them to hear that the government no longer supports them." She continued: "Every new government that comes in wants to simply cancel out all the programs created by the previous government, it's ridiculous. We are just lucky that we have the same minister [Herzog], who understands the benefits of this program, continuing in the job." "Under this system, ministers are not willing to invest in programs that take a long time to develop, because they fear any change in administration will undo the work they've done. It's easier for them to create short-term gimmicks that will at least come to fruition. The problem is that not all programs can work like that," he said. Initiated two years ago by Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar, currently education minister, the program was later endorsed by prime minister Ehud Olmert, who pledged the NIS 20m. for it through 2010. Now in development, the program includes the renovation and expansion of the three existing rape treatment centers in Rishon Lezion, Tel Aviv and Haifa; the establishment of three additional facilities in Jerusalem, Beersheba and Nazareth; and improved and expanded training programs for staff members and for workers at local hospitals and police stations. Assistance to those involved in prostitution includes providing a mobile medical center at several locations, a safe house and a hot line.