Friday, July 01, 2005

Kibbutzim tackling sexual violence on home ground and away


At 2:30 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...
Wed., June 22, 2005 Sivan 15, 5765

Kibbutzim tackling sexual violence on home ground and away
By Ruth Sinai

In recent weeks, the Kibbutz Movement sent 530 postcards to members who are soon to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. The postcards explain how to cope with sexual violence in the army, and define sexual harassment, indecent acts and humiliating behavior toward women. The cards also provide several phone numbers that female soldiers can call for assistance, inside and outside the IDF, should the need arise.

The postcards are part of a series of actions taken by the Kibbutz Movement in recent years to increase awareness of sexual violence inside and outside kibbutzim. As part of this effort, the movement and the Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault are jointly sponsoring a conference tomorrow on the unique difficulties of coping with sexual violence on kibbutzim.

The conference, to be held at the Tzavta auditorium in Tel Aviv, is the first of its kind and will feature testimonies of victims and those who assist them.

"Sexual assault on a kibbutz is a bit like incest, because the social circle on a kibbutz resembles an extended family, to a certain extent," says Betty Ofer, a psychiatrist at the Counseling Center for Women. Ofer treats kibbutz residents who were sexually assaulted in their youth.

Ofer explains that in such a case, the victim continues to live on the kibbutz, revisits the locations where she was assaulted and meets the perpetrator on a daily basis. Then, when she chooses to expose the assault, she does so in front of hundreds of kibbutz residents, because it is difficult to keep a secret in a closed society. In the city, on the other hand, the victim can more easily escape the perpetrator, and must only report the act to a minimal group of people, she says. Victims on kibbutzim are often forced to expose their secret to the community when they seek funds for therapeutic support, she adds.

Smadar Sinai, director of the Kibbutz Movement's Unit to Advance the Status of Women, says that there is no reason to believe that the phenomenon is more common on kibbutzim than in other closed societies and sectors of the population, but that there is no data that measures the prevalence of sexual assault on kibbutzim. She admits that communal sleeping arrangements for children were "a house begging to be robbed, and there apparently were some robbers."

According to Sinai, the Kibbutz Movement has engaged in increasing activity to raise awareness and treat cases in its midst in recent years. In addition to other efforts, a hotline was created on a kibbutz in the north to respond to sexual assault complaints. The hotline has received several dozen complaints in its two years of operation. In addition, a nonprofit organization was created in recent months to address the unique problems that kibbutz sexual assault victims face.

According to Hila Karner-Suleiman, the general manager of the Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault, in 2005 the centers have received 87 new calls for assistance from people who were sexually assaulted on kibbutzim, typically during childhood. Staff members are not certain that this represents an increase in the number of such calls, as this is the first year that the association has separated calls according to location in the country.

Karner-Suleiman says that the treatment of male victims of sexual assault is also different on kibbutzim than it is in the city. "The sanctification of the ethos of the classic kibbutz male makes it even more difficult for men on kibbutzim, who were assaulted in childhood, to expose themselves. Yet, these numbers are similar to those of girls who were assaulted," she says.

A man who was the victim of sexual assault on a religious kibbutz will be one of the speakers at the conference.

Moriah Shlomot, director of the Counseling Center for Women, initiated the conference in response to the first buds of openness to grappling with this subject in the Kibbutz Movement. "Sexual violence was a repressed and denied topic on kibbutzim. Therefore, it was never examined, processed or treated," says Shlomot, a native of Kibbutz Bar'am. She hopes that the conference will give rise to an initiative to measure the prevalence of the problem. Shlomot is convinced that victims of sexual assault on kibbutzim, like victims of sexual assault in the family, are only prepared to expose the assault after many years. Moreover, there is a unique element to exposure in a community that takes pride in an image of a society based on values - this is a society that finds it difficult to admit that such an ugly phenomenon is taking place in its midst.

"I see the importance of the therapeutic process and the exposure of the secret, even if it is confined to the treatment room, as part of the journey of rehabilitation and empowerment of the victim, the family and the environment in which the victim lives," she says.


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