Democracy
in the Shadow
of Coronavirus

"More women are going to be murdered and the government has no contingency plans in place."

Organizations dealing with domestic violence report a dramatic increase in violence against women and new types of rape cases due to the lockdown and isolation. They also say that the authorities have no plans at all for coping with this increase. "Corona, unemployment, and children at home are a ticking time bomb. A more severe wave of violence is yet to come." Read below for an insider’s view on this crisis.

Illustration: Moran Barak

Noam Amit

March 27, 2020

A.contacted the Women Against Violence helpline on Sunday morning. "I want to get away from here. I can’t spend even one more day in lockdown with him. I have to get away. I didn’t dare flee until now. I have been on the receiving end for years, but now it is different. He is under pressure because he doesn’t have any work. You have to take me away from here. I’m afraid that he will be violent in front of the children. I have to get away. Perhaps I will come back afterward, perhaps I won’t, but for now, I have to get away."

A similar call was made that same day to Wizo’s emergency helpline. "I don’t recognize my husband as he is now. What's going to happen?" The caller said that she had suffered verbal and emotional abuse for more than twenty years of marriage but that last weekend was the first time her husband also physically assaulted her.

Yael Gold, CEO of the organization No2Violence Against Women, reports a three־fold increase in the number of calls to their 24־hour helpline. The most serious call was from the mother of a three־month־old baby girl who reported that, having been subjected to threats and fits of anger throughout her married life, the violence has now become much worse and she is living in constant fear for her life. "Now they can somehow find the time to call us, but the moment there is a total lockdown and husbands are at home all day, they will be terrified to contact us. Even now, many of the calls are from worried neighbors, friends, and relatives. The women themselves are imprisoned with their husbands and some of them don’t have any place where they can call and speak to us. It’s important that those around her are much more vigilant because the women can’t report for themselves." To prove her point, Gold tells of a call she received last Friday from a woman who whispered down the phone line in a quivering voice but hung up after a few minutes when her husband came home and didn’t call back. Another helpline reports on an unusual call from a young girl asking to be taken away from her parents who were constantly arguing. The girl reported that her parents had never argued like this before and that the atmosphere at home was terrible. The conversation was repeatedly cut off as the girl kept hanging up, frightened that her parents would hear her talking.

Gold: "Yesterday in the women’s shelter, there was a sick infant with a 39.6 fever. We contacted Magen David Adom and the Maccabi health fund and they responded with a video call. No one even talked about testing for corona. We have to understand that a women’s shelter is like a classroom – if one person gets sick, then everyone will get infected."

Rivka Neuman, director of Wizo’s Division for the Advancement of the Status of Women, said: "The need to be with the children 24/7, the fear, the difficulties, and existential anxiety such as how to pay rent when there is no money is a great challenge for everyone and we can expect to see reactive violence, even in homes where no one could have expected it. For families where there is already violence, this situation is like a pressure cooker without a release valve."

Tzilit Jacobson, chair of the board of Bat Melech, an organization that provides assistance to religious and ultra־Orthodox women, added: "Homes in the cycle of violence are places where a woman never knows where or when the next outburst will erupt." She also uses the metaphor of a pressure cooker to describe the situation. "In normal times, these women can at least go out to work or to their studies or meet their families and be given strength from those close to them and let off steam. Now, they are living in a pressure cooker and there is no place to vent. The lockdown and isolation are imprisoning these women inside the violent situation."

Gold sums up: "We expect the wave of violence to become more severe as economic problems increase. Corona, unemployment, and children at home are a ticking time bomb."

How can we isolate in a crowded women’s shelter?

The increase in calls to the hotline and domestic violence is not surprising. The mathematics are simple: after festivals and holidays, times when families are together, calls to emergency hotlines and shelters always increase. The corona crisis, which has led to even higher rates of violence due to tension and the tight lockdown, will lead to a serious escalation.

Last Sunday, even before the government decided to enact more draconian restrictions on employment, movement, and commerce, women’s organizations wrote to the prime minister requesting urgent intervention in the matter of domestic violence. "Under conditions of isolation, economic crisis, stress, and a lot of tension, a rise in cases of domestic violence is to be expected," they wrote.…"This has already been documented in the international media: reports of domestic violence in Hubei province in China tripled during the corona crisis and the ensuing lockdown."

Photo: Yifat Yaffe

Gera־Margaliot: "Violence is on the rise and we haven’t yet seen or understood the extent of this increase. More women are going to be murdered and the government has no contingency plans in place."

Michal Gera־Margaliot, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network reported: "Just last week, two women were murdered – one in Rishon LeZion and the second in Um el Fahm – and in Lod there was an attempted murder of a woman. Violence is on the rise, and we haven’t yet seen or understood the extent of this increase. More women are going to be murdered and the government has no contingency plans in place."

At present, the main difficulty for the organizations dealing with domestic violence are the Ministry of Health’s isolation regulations. Naila Awad Rashed, the director of Women Against Violence, said: "Just look at what is going on inside the women’s shelters. At least 40 women and children, as well as staff members, are in lockdown in a shelter. They are not going out, but new women are being brought to the shelter. What if one of the new arrivals has the coronavirus or is a carrier? At this point, there are no regulations about how to deal with this situation."

Yael Gold, director of an organization that operates three women’s shelters, added: "If a carrier is found in one of the shelters, all the people in that shelter will go into isolation, and this is very significant because new women are being admitted all the time. Just last week, we admitted three pregnant women to our shelters. This in itself is very unusual; pregnant women tend to stay with their partners, at least until they have given birth." Gold sees this as yet another indication of the effects of the corona crisis.

These three women were asymptomatic and there was no indication that they had been in contact with confirmed cases of corona, so they were admitted to the shelter and were not required to go into isolation. Gold warns of the dangers involved and describes the ease with which the virus can spread in women’s shelter. "Yesterday in the shelter, there was a sick infant with a 39.6º fever. We contacted Magen David Adom and the Maccabi health fund and they responded with a video call. No one even talked about testing for corona. We have to understand that a shelter is like a classroom – if one person gets sick then everyone will get infected, no matter how hard we try to keep a distance between people. This is their home and it is impossible to keep them two meters apart from each other, because this is the only space they have."

Eric is a social worker who works in one of the cities on the coastal plain. He tried to understand the regulations and the solutions proposed by the authorities when dealing with the case of a 22־year־old woman in a life־threatening situation. The decision was made to transfer her immediately to a women’s shelter, but while preparations were being made for her admittance, the question arose as to whether she needed to be in isolation. This is simply not an option in a crowded women’s shelter. Eric spent the whole day contacting the welfare authorities and the Ministry of Health but was unable to get clear answers; most of the employees are at home and there is only a limited response service. Eric added that there need to be creative solutions to these problems and that there is feeling that there is no one to work with.

Gera־Margaliot stated: "A women who is in isolation cannot be admitted to a women’s shelter. This is an abnormal situation. The government has to find a solution for this. It is not the job of the NGOs or of the people running the shelters. The government hasn’t provide any information on the corona crisis in languages other than Hebrew. The number of social and welfare workers has not increased. They haven’t instructed the Ministry of Health hotline on how to answer these questions."

And it is not just a question of answers or regulations. Rivka Neuman contacted the Ministry of Labor and Social Services to propose a quick and efficient solution. She suggested that one of Wizo’s youth villages, which are all standing empty because students have been sent home, be used as a temporary shelter for women in isolation. The proposal was nixed despite the current emergency situations, because of new regulations regarding childcare. Neuman is now drawing up a new plan for an alternative place of isolation in another of Wizo’s properties and hopes that this time the plan will be implemented.

Have you been raped? We cannot help you.

Yael Sherer, who heads the Lobby for the War Against Sexual Violence, is furious: "We have been told of more than one case of women who are in isolation and are experiencing violence but have no option of going out. The police have no solution. So what should the woman do? Where can she go? To prison? How can she stay in isolation? In cases of sexual violence, things are even worse. What happens if your roommate or your partner rapes you? Are you now supposed to stay inside with these people?"

Photo: Ofer Keidar

Sherer: "We will be dealing with new situations. You get drunk with your roommate in the living room, and then he rapes you. Until last week, I had not heard of so many cases like this. This is not a classic example of rape but is becoming much more common."

The Israel Women’s Network and the Lobby for the War Against Sexual Violence have sent an urgent letter to the ministers of health, public security, and social welfare requesting them to urgently consider this issue. "We are getting information from the field that the regulations are insufficient and do not provide enough details about how to deal with women who are forced into sexual contact by men they do not know. Do such women need to go into isolation? How can we ensure that they receive the special assistance needed after sexual assault when they are in isolation? How should they report having gone into isolation?"

These are not theoretical questions. Two women have contacted Sherer in recent days to report being raped by men they did not know. The first thing she asked the authorities was to allow the women to be tested for coronavirus. The health ministry refused. After Sherer’s repeated requests, the ministry made a new category of isolation for these women. "Women who have been raped by men they do not know have to stay in isolation. So we have these two women who are in isolation at the request of the health ministry. They are in a category of their own. One of them is already showing symptoms of coronavirus – she is coughing and has a fever and has now been hospitalized."

Sherer is an eloquent woman who works around the clock to find solutions for impossible situations caused by the virus. "Women who have been raped and who would, under normal circumstances, go to acute care rooms in hospitals for the necessary specialized treatment, are now afraid of going to hospital and don’t know if there are even any rooms available for the care they need. We could tell them that they don’t have to go to acute care rooms, but what about the morning after pill, antibiotics, or a jaundice shot? These are an integral part of acute treatment. So what should these women do? The surgeries asked people not to go in for treatment but instead to call their doctors. But, the women don’t want to call their doctors to say they were raped. So we are doing all we possibly can to bring healthcare providers to them. I find myself calling doctors, pharmacists, and paramedics asking whether anyone can give a jaundice shot or whether someone in Katzrin [in the Golan Heights] has a morning after pill in stock and can go and give it to a woman who needs it?"

The corona crisis caught Sherer busy planning a campaign to raise awareness about date rape drugs. "In advance of the summer, we were preparing a campaign about date rape drugs, but I’m pretty certain that it won’t be relevant this summer because there won’t be any huge rave parties. We will be dealing with new situations. You get drunk with your roommate in the living room, and then he rapes you. This is not a classic case of rape, but it is now becoming much more common. Until last week, I had not heard of so many cases like this. What are we going to do about it? We’re making it up as we go along because there are no rules, no funding, no nurses, no doctors, and no solution other than to take care of things by yourself."

Bat Melech Emergency Hotline
1–800–191–333

Emergency Hotlines for Victims of Sexual Assault:
Hotline for Women
1202

Hotline for Men
1203

WhatsApp for Help Centers
052–8361202