The Knesset discusses how to deal with victims of sexual violence

How do the various institutions respond to the flood of victims from October 7?

By Michael Selutin | | Topics: Hamas, Gaza
MK Pnina Tamano Shata leads the special session of the Knesset committee. Can she help the victims? Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90
MK Pnina Tamano Shata leads the special session of the Knesset committee. Can she help the victims? Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

The Committee for the Promotion of the Status of Women and Gender Equality held a special meeting on Monday to discuss therapeutic measures and support for victims of sexual assault on and after October 7th. The discussion began with an appeal from the families of the hostages: “Both my parents were murdered on the same Shabbat,” said Merav, the sister of hostage Itai Sabirsky. “He saw my mother being murdered in front of his eyes. We need to talk about the problem of what happened to the women. We have a situation here where there are pregnant women.”

After a few more statements from relatives, the various institutions began to describe their respective processes for victims of sexual violence.

Dr. Bela Gershon, Director of the Ministry of Health, presented the ministry’s therapeutic measures: “We address all people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. There are five competence centers in the south. We set up a national center in the first week of the war. It has a telephone switchboard that accepts referrals and arranges suitable therapists depending on where you live. When trauma specialists identify sexual abuse, they know how to make an appropriate referral or they handle it themselves.”

Member of Knesset Merav Ben Ari then called the number of the competence center that Dr. Gershon presented at the hearing and waited 12.5 minutes. When her call was answered – she says – they hung up. “Rape is a murder of the soul and no one answers the phone. Reach out to those who have been hurt,” she demanded. “You must go to them and knock on their door, or go to the hospitals.” MK Eliyahu Dellal added: “Government bodies should take the initiative and not wait because it is not certain that the victims will have the courage to come forward.”

Shoes near the beach in Tel Aviv as part of a protest for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Salait Shahar Hochman, head of the sexual victimization department at the Ministry of Welfare, told the group: “There are about 80 small and large treatment centers in our ministry. We do not look for people who have been sexually abused.” The leader of the discussion then asked: “When a victim arrives at the police station, what happens?” Hochman replied, “We are waiting for the victims and know how to treat them. They need to call 118, and speak to a social workers. There is a contact that leads directly to us. The Welfare Ministry took it upon itself to treat and fund the victims who were at the party.”

Lt. Col. Yael Shapira, commander of the IDF’s Coping and Support Center, explained how her department deals with victims: “The Mehot Center provides a quick and direct response to any applicant who has been directly or indirectly exposed to sexual abuse. The center is able to provide servicemen and servicewomen with an anonymous response, without waiting time for the treatment of combat casualties. We provide an immediate response to every request received by our center or by commanders in the units. After October 7, instructions were issued to units to inform soldiers who had suffered any form of injury about the possibility of contacting us.”

The chairwoman of the committee, Pnina Tamano-Shata, concluded the discussion with critical words: “We leave the discussion with an uneasy feeling, because above all I would have expected that the government ministries would sit down with all parties and that there would be a clear course of action. The lack of involvement of those affected creates a critical atmosphere. In the end, there is no satisfactory picture of the situation. Maybe we need a project manager for this thing. Maybe it should be transferred to the Ministry of Social Affairs. I recommend that there will soon be a master plan in a very clear presentation. We should understand what benefits exist and how long the waiting times are. I don’t think there is a funding problem here. We will have a follow-up conversation next week.”

Even if there still seem to be problems with the cooperation of the various authorities, it is good to know that everyone cares for the victims of sexual abuse in their own way. It is hoped that at the next meeting this committee will resolve the difficulties and provide appropriate treatment to the victims.

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