There has been a steady drop in the number of rape victims reporting the crimes against them to the police, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers reported Tuesday to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. Presenting its annual report, the association's director Tal Kramer told the assortment of MKs, representatives of women's organizations and other government officials, including Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, that the decrease in reporting was slight but extremely significant. "It is something that should raise alarm bells," Kramer said. The meeting was part of a special hearing to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which took place this past Sunday. According to the report, in 2006 only 18.1 percent of rape or sexual assault victims that had initially contacted a rape crisis center had gone on to report the crime to the police, compared to 22.7% in 2003. More than 38,000 victims of rape or sex crimes contacted the center for assistance in 2006, with some 8,862 calls coming from first time callers. Figures up to August 2007 showed that 26,045 calls were received by the center, 5,611 from first-time victims. "When people contact us their identity remains anonymous but when they turn to the police it is a different story," Kramer told the committee, acknowledging that some women turned to the police for assistance first and were therefore not included in their current figures. "It is very difficult for the victims to complain to the police and we need to break this cycle of silence," Kramer added. Beinisch opened up the proceedings, telling the committee that even though Israel had advanced legislation aimed at protecting people, "we still live in a society that is filled with violence, where a person cannot feel safe even in their own home." "Violence against weaker segments of the population, like the elderly, is particularly worrying," she said, adding that even though "Israel was founded on the principle of equality, women are still considered to be inferior." "We have to raise the [level of] public discourse on this subject," Miriam Schler, director of the rape crisis center in Tel Aviv told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting. "This issue can't just be dealt with on a legislative level but [the battle against it] has to be all-encompassing." "It is a battle against misconceptions in society," she told the committee. "And just when we feel we are moving forward on this, the same stereotypes keep coming back." A study published just last week by the Authority for the Advancement of Women in the Prime Minister's Office found that 17% of the public still believes that the way a rape victim is dressed immediately prior to the crime together with her behavior is one of the main causes of a sexual attack. "Many victims blame themselves and it takes them a very long time to realize that [it] is not their fault," said Schler. "There are many young girls that bury what happened to them deep inside them and continue on with their lives but one day it will just explode." A range of mostly female MKs commented on the subject, including MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), who asked how women could be expected to report sex crimes against them when in high profile cases such as those of former president Moshe Katsav and Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon the women are ridiculed and state pardons are handed out. Committee chairman MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) said that the budget allotted to centers for victims of sexual crimes would be increased by NIS 15 million in the coming months.