A safe landing

Fifty percent of women who enter L.O. Combat Violence Against Women’s shelters return to their abusers. Which populations are particularly at risk?

Woman in shadow 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Woman in shadow 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“I never expected her to die from the beating” – a man married just three months (quoted by Ruth Rasnic)
Behind high walls on the corner of a quiet street in the center of the country is a refuge for abused women and their children. Established in 1978 by Ruth Rasnic, one of the founders of the feminist movement in Israel, the home provides a hotline and offers shelter to thousands of women who want to talk or seek a safe place to turn to because their lives may be in danger. Lily (not her real name) is one of those women. Uncomfortable, unhappy and suffering in silence, she could no longer live her life as it was and finally made the decision to leave her husband of nine years. Lily was an abused wife.
Her story is typical of so many women around the world.
On this day, November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is fitting to pay tribute to her – and to all the other women who have suffered – by telling her story.
An attractive blonde woman, Lily sits behind a desk at the battered women’s shelter and, in between phone calls, she hesitantly tells her story.
Now 35 years old, she is a single mother raising four children alone. Lily had been married for one year when the verbal abuse began. Her husband would not allow her to work, although she was a trained X-ray technician. The abuse happened frequently and at times when she was not expecting it. With it came threats to kill her if she left him, among many other insults and abusive words that filled her mind, leaving her in fear. She did not tell anyone, keeping the years of abuse a secret.
Lily says that the abuse left her feeling “unimportant, trapped and afraid.”
She had requested a restraining order against him, but the court was unable to grant it because her husband had repeatedly filed false complaints about her with the police. Lily was left without protection against him, and finally she reached her breaking point. She decided that she had had enough, and with the children by her side, she walked away from her life of abuse.
At first she felt “horrified at the idea that I was on my way to a shelter; but after being there a week, I realized that this was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she recalls.
During the eight months that she lived there, “I dived into the physical and emotional assistance that I received at the shelter,” she says. She eventually began volunteering and was able to lend an ear to other women when the trained employees could not get through to them.
Why did she tolerate the abuse for so many years? She didn’t think she had a choice and kept hoping that things would change. But the main reason was the children. However, the years of abuse did not pass without the children’s knowledge. They were constantly exposed to it, and it was very difficult for them.
In the eight months that Lily and her children spent at the shelter, her husband tried several times to win her back, but she refused to return.
Lily has continued volunteering at the shelter and offers her time on a regular basis. “I want to change the lives of all the women who come here in the same way,” she explains.
Now that she is out of the marriage, Lily feels “strong, independent and free.” The months spent in the protection and warmth of women who understood what she had experienced and who were willing to help her enabled her to feel confident enough to “leave the shelter for an independent life with my kids and the support of my family.”
She says she feels empowered and hopes to make all women realize that a life of violence is not necessary.
VIOLENCE AGAINST women is about control and power. According to Rasnic, “Violence against women is jealousy and possession in a casual or spousal relationship, controlling relationships with friends and family, deciding what you may or may not wear, whether and where you can work, taking charge of your money and finances.”(L.O. Combat Violence against Women website).
In an abusive relationship, the man is accepted as the head of the family, and he feels that he may do as he pleases with the woman.
Rasnic explains that abuse usually comes in four forms: physical, financial, verbal and sexual.
Physical abuse, “which starts off with a slap, carries on to the fist, kicking, breaking limbs, threats of killing you or the children, threats of physical violence by him orsomeone else,” Rasnic explains.
In financial abuse, the man takes total control of household income and expenditures and leaves the woman with no money. This is very common, says Rasnic.
Verbal/emotional/psychological abuse includes insults, name calling (such as slut, bitch, stupid, useless, hopeless) and threats.
Sexual abuse often occurs during the other forms of abuse. Sex is used as a bartering chip. A man may throw money at the woman after sex, or deprive her from having money unless she offers him sex, making her feel like a prostitute.
Abused women are often “listless, depressed and very frightened. Suicide attempts among abused women are frequent as are miscarriages and deliveries of deformed or defective children,” writes Rasnic on the website.
In Israel, there are 13 shelters where abused women can turn. Ten cater to women of all sectors of Israel, two are located in the Arab sector, and one caters to Orthodox Jews.
The first L.O. Combat Violence Against Women started in a three-room building with a staff of two. Thirty women and children were crammed into it, showing the need for such a shelter. Today, the shelter has moved to another house and has a staff of lawyers, child-care workers, social workers, house mothers and 60 volunteers running a 24-hour hotline in Hebrew, English and Russian. It can accommodate about 12 women and 20 children. Basically, it is run by the women – they take care of the cooking and cleaning.The organization now runs three shelters.
When a woman first enters the shelter, she is given food, linen and clothing. Some women leave their homes in such a hurry that they arrive with nothing. They then meet the social workers and the director of the shelter. They receive psychotherapy and other group therapies. Hebrew lessons are also arranged for the foreign women.
Rasnic says that the highest-risk women are from the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Ramle and Lod, where many women have been victims of so-called “honor killing.” She says, “Missing Jewish and Arab women can be presumed to be murdered, and suicide should be looked upon suspiciously.”
Immigrants are also at high risk. Often when they come to Israel, they lose their profession or cannot find work. Many men turn to drinking, which leads to alcohol abuse, which in turn leads to domestic violence.
Foreign female workers are are at risk as well. A woman who has no rights in Israel has no access to social services if she leaves her abuser. Knowledge that these women have no rights puts the men in a position of tremendous power over the women.
Some traditional men can also be abusers. They believe they should be the bosses and do not want women to change. They feel that women are their property.
Statistically, the most stressful times that bring about violence are during war, weekends and holidays.
Rasnic says that over the years her shelter has helped “many thousands of women and children.”
But what about the women who do not leave their abusers or return to them as do 50 percent of the women who enter the shelter? Why do they not leave? The reasons vary.
“Many women have seen their mothers being abused and believe that all men are violent,” Rasnic explains. “Some women are ashamed to admit that they failed in their marriage, or they feel guilty – they were not gentle or caring enough,” she continues. “And some women do not want to ruin the career of their high-ranking husband for fear that he will go to jail and not be able to pay child support,” she says.
Other women’s families do not want the responsibility of taking care of their daughter. And then there are women who don’t want their children to blame them or are fooled by their husband’s tears and apologies and return in the belief that he is sincere.
When the woman returns to her partner, the violence usually escalates. “A batterer will beat any woman he lives with,” says Rasnic.
There are about 70 groups for men who beat their partners, but Rasnic says that they are not successful because the men do not want to change. Many attend the group meetings so they can avoid prison time.
What does Rasnic feel about the future? She believes that things are changing. “Once women know that they are powerful and can talk about it, this is going to change.” She continues, “The ability to be able to open the secret of – I call it Pandora’s box – once you open it, everything will come out,” she says.
“Maybe our great-granddaughters will live in a society that is egalitarian, and wife and child abuse will be real abnormalities, not as they are today,” she says.
Many women say that they have “forgotten the beating but have never forgotten what he said.”
Ultimately, although the numbers are important, Rasnic says that “the pain of one woman is more than enough.”
Facts and Figures:
The United Nations declared November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the day the three Mirabal sisters, all activists, were assassinated in 1960 in the Dominican Republic at the orders of the leader, Rafael Trujillo.
• The World Health Organization estimates that “At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime – with the abuser usually someone known to her.”That is one billion women.
• It is estimated that worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
• Up to 70 percent of women experience violence in their lifetime.
• Women aged 15 to 44 are more at risk of rape and domestic violence than of cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.
Statistics from the three L.O.Combat Violence Against Women Shelters
2007: 20 women were murdered by their spouse, boyfriend or close relative in Israel.2010: 22 women murdered by a spouse, boyfriend or close relative in Israel/ 2001: 197 women entered their shelters.2010: 183 women entered their shelters.
L.O. Hotline: 1-800-353-300.Legal aid: (09) 956-1661.                                                                           – N.S.