WIZO program offers support to battered women

International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women

There were gashes up and down the woman's arms, on her chest, and across her face. Her clothing was soaked in blood. She even had the knife that her husband had used earlier that day to drive home the point that she wasn't keeping the house neat enough. But she didn't think she was a victim of domestic violence. She thought she deserved her punishment. Only because she felt her life was at stake did she go to the police station at all, the first time in 10 years of spousal assault that she turned to the authorities. She might have tried to return to her abusive relationship, but at the station she met Sophie Burstein, a volunteer from WIZO's project to help battered women. With Burstein's help she went to the hospital and then a shelter for the few days before police found and arrested her husband. Now she's going through a program arranged by WIZO and her local center for victims of family violence, the latter of which every municipality has, to prepare for life as a single, working mom. Without such a program, Burstein said, it would be difficult for these women - who are usually completely dependent on their husbands, who have told them they are worthless so often they believe it - to move out on their own. "They build their self-confidence. They get the ability to see they can get out of the circle of violence and build a better life for themselves," she said. Friday is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. But Burstein said one day is not enough for the work that she and her fellow volunteers do. The program that they help women undergo takes one year to complete. "It takes time," Burstein said. "It doesn't happen in a day." The services the women receive include counseling, welfare if necessary, and job training. While some of the help is practical, the emphasis is on building up the confidence of women who have been told they are useless and incapable of life without their husbands. The WIZO project also tries to reassure the women that help is available just by being at their side from the day they come to the police. The women often feel they are all alone, Burstein noted. But according to project manager Oshrat Sherf, there are an estimated 200,000 battered women in Israel, 18,000 of whom filed police complaints in 2004. Originally the volunteers would wait at home until police would contact them and suggest they help a victim whom they had identified. But Sherf said the program, which operates in Ramat Gan and Or Yehuda but is being adapted by other organizations around the country, became much more effective when the volunteers simply spent the day at the police station, ready to be on hand when women came in. That way, instead of waiting among victims of robberies and car theft, they can be treated individually. Women need to understand that "no woman deserves to be beaten," Burstein stressed. Those that are "should come to the police and put an end to it because there's no other way to get out of the [vicious] cycle." But that message can be difficult to listen to. Burstein pointed to the stabbed woman, who long avoided getting help. "It took her 10 years. Sometimes it takes them more. That's why, when they do come, we do our best not to let them go. If they go without help, it will probably take another 10 years before they come back."