Saturday, November 1, 2008

Child Abuse - Israel's approach

The holiday of Succot had arrived, and, when their father was out praying at the synagogue, the children were growing hungry. One of them, a girl, took the initiative and prepared nine pizzas for herself and her siblings. As they sat down to eat, their father arrived home,and gazed with rage upon his daughter's efforts. "Eat every single one by yourself," he ordered his terrified daughter, forcing her to obey until she vomited.The father-of-11 - now 47 - admitted to carrying out the actions described above eight years ago. He also admitted to sexually abusing one of his daughters, and to routinely verbally and physically abusing all of them, using objects such as shoes and hangers to hit them.The man struck a plea bargain with the prosecution and was sentenced on Monday to seven-and-a-half years behind bars, receiving a reduced sentence because he had agreed to grant his wife a divorce. The sentence enraged children's rights activists.This is the latest sample of misery to emerge from the spate of family abuse stories that have been dominating the local news.

Last month, it was the Rose Pizem case. The country listened in horror as details of the murder of the four-year-old at the hand of her grandfather, who stuffed her body into a suitcase and tossed it into the Yarkon river, emerged.Soon after that, three mothers murdered their young children in the space of a single week.And most recently, a successful police officer rising through the ranks is believed to have gunned down his policewoman wife, baby and toddler, before taking his own life. Police are clueless about the motive.Is this indicative of a new rise in extreme domestic violence here? According to police, the answer is no. "This has always been in the headlines. There is no increase," one source said. "Unfortunately,these incidents come in waves," he added, arguing that the quick succession of horror stories and intense media spotlight provide an exaggerated picture of the extent of family abuse.[...]

In a major effort to counter this, police say, they have launched a new computerized information system aimed at providing all victims of crimes, including the tens of thousands of victims of domestic abuse, real-time information about the status and location of their abusers.The system, which is linked in to every police department, the Prisons Service and the courts, sends out a text message to victims' cell phones, informing them that their suspect has been released from custody, or alternatively, sentenced to a prison term. In other instances, victims will be notified of court dates, or be told where to access indictment sheets.The system, named MENA (an acronym for the Hebrew words for Crime Victims Department), has now been integrated in such a way that a police officer registering a complaint can't proceed without ensuring that MENA has been notified of all the details. [...]

But what becomes of the perpetrators? In one small hostel in Hod Hasharon, an innovative approach has been employed for the past decade, whose goal is to rehabilitate abusive men. So far, its results seem encouraging.The Beit Noam hostel can house 13 men who have opted (pending a judge's approval) to spend four months at the center, rather than serve time in prison."Beit Noam is the only place in Israel, perhaps in the world,in which violent men live in boarding-school conditions, rather than receive treatment in groups or communities," the center's president,Ahuva Talmon, said. Founded by social workers, with the cooperation of the government and charity funds, Beit Noam came into existence in 1997,and has given men with abusive tendencies a new outlook on life."Many have genuinely changed. Some even stay on after their initial four months, out of their own free will, even paying to do so,"Talmon said.[...]

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