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Murder of Young Mother Brings Issue of Domestic Abuse to the Fore

Fearing for her life at the hands of her ex-husband, Almo Masarat, a 20-year-old Petach Tikva resident, went to the police last week. She waited around watching clerks shuffle her around like a paper clip on a desk. Eventually she gave up, telling family members that the police were not helping her. Half an hour later, her ex-husband, who was waiting in the shadows by the entrance to her apartment, allegedly killed her. She was found by neighbors in a bloody pool outside her apartment as her 3-year old son sat next to her, wailing.

Although police apathy towards domestic violence is an old story, what is perhaps surprising is that the situation for women does not seem to have improved much over 30 years, despite ongoing efforts by women’s organizations and other activists. Moreover, the situation for Ethiopian women in Israel, arguably one of the most marginalized groups in the country, is particularly stark. According to statistics released last week by the organization “L.O.,” which fights violence against women, one out of every five women murdered by her husband is Ethiopian — even though Ethiopian Jews make up less than 2% of Israel’s population.

Of the 115 women murdered by their husbands since 2001, 22 have been Ethiopian.

Of course, domestic abuse is by no means endemic to one community. In Israel, the sector with the largest number of wife-murders is the immigrant community from the Former Soviet Union. Since 2001, 28 women from the FSU have been murdered by their partners (though immigrants from the FSU make up a much larger percentage of the Israeli population than do Ethiopian immigrants).

What are possibly risk factors in both groups are the high pressure and frustration that come from issues such as unemployment, poverty and cultural isolation. The Ethiopian community has been so outrageously neglected and mistreated by the Israeli government, that frustration and rage are understandably ripe. The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, has been fighting the entrenched racism and systemic disregard for the needs of the Ethiopian community, with some (but too few) successes.

The alienation of immigrant groups arguably accounts not only for the higher-than-average rates of domestic abuse, but also for the sense of helplessness among the victims.

When Masarat went to the police station, she waited for hours to be helped. Of her situation, Dr. Arnon Edelstein, a criminologist who specializes in murder within families, told Ynet:

There is a huge culture gap between the immigrant community and the law enforcement authorities. The woman stands before police officers who don’t understand her, who don’t speak her language, who don’t know exactly what she wants. There is nobody there to speak to her in her own culture, who understands that this is a real crisis. A social worker from her own community could have saved her.

If we’re serious about lowering the number of wife-murders, we must advocate for better attention to the needs of immigrant groups. If Ethiopian men feel more respected by society, they are likely to act more respectfully towards women.

Of course, this belies the main point in any discussion of wife-murder. Although social stresses are definite factors in domestic violence, they are, by no means, excuses. Wife-murder crosses cultural and socio-economic boundaries. The underlying psychopathology of wife-murder is a view of women as subservient to men. And this view of gender finds expression in behaviors more “innocuous” than murder: joking put-downs, expectations of servitude, and often subtle and not-so-subtle forms of emotional abuse. Although not all emotionally abusive men end up murdering their wives, we can be sure that just about every murdered woman was emotionally abused first.

So if we really want to combat this disturbing trend of wife-murder, we have to teach men and women – sabras and immigrants, rich and poor, black and white – that women deserve to be treated with respect. The antidote to such tragedies starts there.

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