NGOs: New plan for rape victims a 'drop in the ocean'

PM: This is a breakthrough, but we've a long way to go.

olmert knesset 224.88 (photo credit: )
olmert knesset 224.88
(photo credit: )
A tired-looking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took some time out of his busy schedule Monday to address a special session of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Woman charged with examining the latest progress of two new ground-breaking government initiatives - one for treating victims of rape and sexual assault, the other for providing rehabilitation to women in the sex industry - set in motion by the Prime Minister's Office more than a year ago. While those involved in the new programs, which Olmert said would eventually "create a completely new way for treating rape victims," commended the progress achieved so far, others, including the prime minister himself, noted that it was still not enough to help tens of thousands of female victims of rape and prostitution. "[These programs] are a real breakthrough that deserve special appreciation," said Olmert, who appeared genuinely passionate about this topic. "This is at the top of my priorities as prime minister and I take this subject very seriously." Despite the positive steps taken so far by the two programs, Olmert acknowledged however that "we are very, very far from dealing with all the problems of advancing the status of women in this country." In January 2007, at the behest of Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar, Olmert became the first prime minister to attend a meeting of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. At that meeting, he pledged NIS 20 million towards the two initiatives through to 2010, leaving a clause for more funds to flow in from various government ministry budgets and establishing an interministerial committee within his office, headed by Mirit Denon, to coordinate efforts and ensure that goals were met. At Monday's meeting, Denon, who now serves as the liaison between the government and grassroots organizations working in the field, said that Israel was among the few countries worldwide "where the government is involved in helping women break out of prostitution. In most other places, it is down to non-government or private organizations." "This is the first time that the state of Israel has taken responsibility for these women and allocated a budget to this important issue," commented current chairwoman of the Knesset committee, MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beitenu). The program, which is already in various stages of development, 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, as well as improved and expanded training programs for staff members and for workers at local hospitals and police stations. Assistance to those involved in prostitution include providing a mobile medical center in several locations, a safe house and a hot line. Tzippi Nachshon Glick, National Supervisor for Domestic Violence in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, who is responsible for the development of programs to rehabilitate prostitutes, told Monday's meeting that roughly 10,000 women are working as prostitutes in Israel. She said that the new program, which should be up and running as soon as July, will likely help at least 100 women a year escape the industry. "This is a drop in the ocean," pointed out Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, chair of the Knesset Sub-Committee on the Trafficking in Women. "While I welcome the steps taken so far, the numbers of those being helped [to escape prostitution] is still so few and there is much more that needs to be done." Michal Rozin, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting that while she also welcomed the initiatives to help "victims of rape and sexual assault, "it is still very far from solving the problem." "We receive 40,000 calls a year from women who have been attacked or need help, with 9,000 from first-timers," she said. "With only six rape crisis centers treating an average of 200-300 victims a year, that means only 1,000 women countrywide can get help." Rozin urged the prime minister and the committee members to continue working with the non-profit sector and told the Post she planned to seek part of the allocated funds for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers. "Many times the government wants to create something new just to say that they did it, rather than strengthening the network that already exists," Rozin told the Post. "We are the first step in this treatment process [for rape victims] and we want to continue to be the connection between those first calls and new centers."