As Israelis head into a second lockdown, it is pivotal to recall that lockdowns generally cause a rise in domestic violence. The global trend has gotten so bad in recent times that the United Nations refers to it as the “shadow pandemic.” The State of Israel must not consider itself an exception to this trend and take proper steps to deal with the phenomenon, learning from what occurred during the first lockdown.
Orit Sulitzeanu, who heads the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, reported that “when COVID-19 first hit Israel, the hot lines were silent as people tried to sort out how they were going to handle this new reality. Then the calls began to escalate each week. Lockdown meant that social workers were no longer available to help because they were deemed to be nonessential workers; psychological services were halted; hearings had to be cancelled because judges were working under very reduced hours; and boarding schools, where children from abusive homes had been sent to protect them, were now returning these kids to their abusive environments.”
In addition to monitoring exacerbation of abusive situations, prior victiims of rape and domestic violence must also be helped to survive the period of social isolation when their thoughts may revolve around shame and embarrassment. Understanding that what happened to them is not their fault significantly helps victims to heal. It is the perpetrators of such crimes who should feel ashamed and embarrassed to leave home, not the victims.
As prominent psychoanalyst Dr. Nancy Kobrin stated, “These boys and men were never educated to treat women as human beings. They are extremely limited and have huge developmental problems. They never learned empathy. Something was not taught to them early in the home. This is about power and control. They have poor self-esteem issues and a fragile sense of self. This is the ultimate bullying. It is important to stress that they bond violently to the female. They are terrified of the female and this goes back to their relationship with their mother. They learn intimacy via the maternal attachment. There is a sense of shame. Shame plays a big role in this. They off-load their shame onto the female via the rape. She should not feel shamed or humiliated. This is their shame.”
Nevertheless, though it is the perpetrators of rapes and domestic violence who are the only ones truly guilty, it is the victim whose mental health is generally ruined. In a recent interview with N12, former police investigator Alon Grossman stated regarding the Eilat gang rape victim: “Rape is murder for life. The scars from the incident will accompany the victim for the rest of her life.”
And there is another point to make. I want to emphasize that justice is possible and the victim can recover psychologically to a great extent, if she goes into therapy, speaks out about what happened, and learns to stop feeling ashamed.
In our generation, following the rise of the Me Too Movement, there are many victims of gender-based violence who have become outspoken advocates against the suffering that they endured. Recently, I read They called him the gangster, a memoir written by Israel’s former Israeli Cultural Attache to Turkey, Zali De Toledo who for years felt an enormous amount of shame about a sexual assault she suffered as a youngster.
As she wrote in her book, “I never told my family about that. I felt I would be blamed for it.” Nevertheless, she refused to let it destroy her life: “The horrific experiences we undergo particularly at a young age can either make or break us. As a result of this and other experiences, in later years, when my girlfriends were dreaming about their fantasy weddings, my dream was about fighting injustice wherever I found it.”
De Toledo wrote not only about the horrific assault she experienced as a child in her new book but also the physical scars she endured during her first marriage, which was abusive. However, she found the courage to leave that marriage and to liberate herself from the abuse. In the beginning, she worked as a cleaner in Jerusalem in two hotels and as a waitress at the Dan Hotel. But then, upon educating herself, she managed to work for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as a public affairs manager and later was appointed by the late Shimon Peres to be Israel’s Cultural Attache to Turkey for an entire decade. Her story is one of struggle and ultimate triumph that gives hope to many other women who were in her situation. When De Toledo lived in Hatzor, she knew many other battered women, who accepted the abuse in silence, but she walked away from the abuse and managed to become a blossoming rose. And now, her amazing story can be viewed in full in her book on Amazon.
Dr. Nancy Kobrin wrote a book titled Penetrating the Terrorist Psyche that spoke out about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Like De Toledo, her abusive family also forced her into a horrific marriage. For much of her life, she was constantly abused, first by her own brother and later by her husband. And like De Toledo, she was able to liberate herself and became a prominent psychoanalyst, counter-terror expert, and author, who has published numerous books. Today, like De Toledo, Dr. Kobrin has been able to find mental peace post-trauma and is no longer living in shame.
A victim does not always need to remain as such, and it is possible to rise above a horrific trauma with hard work, determination and strong will power. Perhaps one day, if she works hard enough for it, a woman who is battling to overcome needless shame can use her pain to help others and transform herself from being a victim to being an advocate for women’s rights.
During the lockdown, women in abusive situations must have access to help, but those who have prior traumas with which to contend must also not be forgotten. All of them can take heart from the stories of Dr. Kobrin, Ms. De Toledo, and hopefully, from the Israeli justice system.