It was a week after I had been raped," Kathy reflects, sitting on the large couch in the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center's downtown office.
"I was feeling lost and alone, guilty about what had happened, and scared to tell my family. I had gone to a movie by myself just to get away from everything for a while. When I went to the toilet and saw the 1202 number on the back of the door. I started crying.
"It was as if somebody had come down from heaven and recognized my pain, extended a hand, and showed me that help was available."
The 1202 number, Kathy says, saved her life. It's the national 24-hour hot line that automatically links callers with the rape crisis center nearest to them.
Established in 1981, the Jerusalem center was the second in Israel
and the first in Jerusalem to deal specifically with problems of sexual and physical abuse. Included in that definition are rape, sodomy, indecent acts, sexual harassment and incest. The center is also simply a place for women to phone in, if they need help.
"I know it's hard for many people to deal with the fact that Jerusalem, the Holy City, and Israel, the Holy Country, have these problems," reflects Jane Jacobs, development director at the Linda Feldman Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center, "but unfortunately, rape and incest are alive and well."
The statistics in Israel, as collected by the rape crisis centers, are similar to the statistics throughout the Western world:
One in three women is assaulted during her lifetime.
One in four women is raped.
One in seven men is assaulted.
One in six girls is subjected to incest.
Today, there are 10 crisis centers across the country. The center in Tel Aviv fields the largest number of calls 2,391 last year.
But Jerusalem is the only city to have four centers, each serving a different clientele - Israeli women, Israeli men, Arab women, and religious men or women.
Together, the centers for Israeli and Arab women fielded 1884 calls last year.
"This is a very tense city," explains Jacobs. "Regional tension peaks here, which is definitely a factor in creating personal tensions which then translate into violence. The poverty in the city also exacerbates the problem. Welfare and social services are already groaning under the weight of people who need long-term therapy but can't afford it. There are subsidized programs but not enough. Municipalities have many things they need to prioritize and this doesn't bode well for women."
The Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center provides crisis intervention management, offers counseling through its hot line, and serves as a first point where victims are able to come in for a meeting before being referred to a support group or other forms assistance.
"If a person rings our hot line and is an Arabic
speaker, a religious woman, or a man, we always offer them the option of calling their community-specific center," she says.
"Some people prefer to keep their trauma and their community apart," says Jacobs. But others feel the need to talk to someone who understands their mores and beliefs.
Debbie Gross is director and founder of the only "Crisis Center for Religious Women" in Israel and indeed the world. Her hot line receives between 10 and 15 calls from religious women every day.
"In 1993 we saw that the religious population was not calling secular hot lines. We asked religious women why and they said that to call a hot line that didn't understand their world only made the situation more traumatic. If a religious woman is raped, for example, and becomes pregnant, we will call a rabbi and find out what her options are for getting an abortion, without giving her name."
Gross emphasizes that the center has rabbinic approval, which is crucial for religious women.
She continues, "It is very difficult, especially in the haredi community, for a religious woman to speak about these things. Often she's afraid that by doing so she won't get a shidduch
(match) for herself or her children, or that she will not be able to get her children into the right schools. Confidentiality is very important to us."
Most of the calls to the Religious Center are about sexual abuse and domestic violence. About 50 percent of calls come from Jerusalem; the remainder are from Beit Shemesh
, Gush Etzion and the rest of the country.
"I know people are surprised this happens in the religious community," reflects Gross. "While it does happen less so than in the secular community, it happens enough for us to be worried."
Gross is adamant that the only way forward is through prevention, which is why much of her attention is focused on coordinating preventive programs in schools. Since January the centers have conducted more than a dozen workshops, targeting children as young as three. The center also operates Russian- and Amharic-speaking hot lines.
For women who speak Arabic, SAWA ("All the Women Together Today and Tomorrow"), established in 1998 in east Jerusalem, offers counseling and assistance.
Last year the center received approximately 900 calls.
"The problem is getting worse," stresses Ohaila Shomar, director. "While we face the same problems as women all over the world, our society is more conservative. The intifada also brought added problems of closures, unemployment, and a lot of poverty. There are many men who spend a lot of time in their houses. Sometimes these men clash with the army or soldiers at checkpoints and have no one on whom to take out their frustrations other than the women in their houses."
Compounding the problem is the taboo on reporting such incidents.
"Palestinian society sees this violence as within the family, and not a problem for society. If a woman wants to go to the police, her neighbors will talk about her, saying she is not worried about her family, she is shaming them by going to report it."
The number of calls to hot lines across Jerusalem, and indeed Israel, is increasing. Last year there were 8,049 new callers reporting sexual assault a 15 percent increase from the previous year. But in most instances, experts assume, the increase is due to greater awareness, not increased violence.
Experts also assume that only about 15% of actual rapes and sexual assaults are reported, and of those only about 20% of women open a file with the police.
"The police don't have the tools to deal with the problem. We recently finished a course in which we trained policemen but there is still a lot of work to do with judges, doctors and social workers," says Shomar.
"During the intifada, a lot of policemen were afraid to wear their uniforms and many police stations were damaged by the army and the occupation. So in some places we don't even have police stations. Victims often feel hopeless and while they might want to prosecute their attacker, they feel it's their word against his."
Nationally, on the judicial and political front, the struggle is being fought by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers.
"We are very concerned," says Tanya Abarbanel, spokesperson for the association. "We've made a lot of progress in terms of raising awareness but we still have a long way to go in countering preconceptions and stereotypes as to what constitutes sexual assault.
biggest problem is finance. Between 25% and 30% of each crisis center's budget comes from the Social Affairs Ministry the rest is through donations. "We find ourselves fighting every year to make sure governmental funding isn't cut. It always is."
This, of course, is a reality shared by all non-governmental organizations, but Abarbanel argues that the association has the added problem of at least with some parliamentary members getting them to open up and talk about the topic, putting it at the forefront of social problems. "It's not a sexy topic. We're somewhat behind the States
where there is more involvement of men in the fight against sexual violence. In Israel it's still very much a women's fight."
If you have been assaulted or feel you need help, call:
National Women's Hotline: 1202
National Men's Hotline: 1203
Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center Hotline: (02) 625-5558
Jerusalem Crisis Center for Religious Women: (02) 673-0002
SAWA: (02) 582-2211
Web site: www.1202.org.il