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Number of women murdered by relatives, partners falls after 2020 spike

Hebrew University center says end of strict COVID lockdowns, increased media coverage, and harsh verdicts may have led to 25% decline in femicide cases

Israelis protest against violence toward women at in Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis protest against violence toward women at in Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The number of women in Israel murdered by a relative or partner dipped by 25% from 2020 to 2021, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said in a report released Thursday.

Last year, 16 women were murdered in Israel by someone they know, down from 21 in 2020, the Israel Observatory on Femicide said.

Women or girls who are intentionally killed because they are female is known as femicide, and considered a hate crime.

Of the 16 cases, six were perpetrated by the victim’s partner, four by their sons and two by their brothers. In four of the cases the murderers was still unknown, the report said.

In 2020, 13 of the murders were by a partner and four were relatives, including one case of matricide, according to a previous report by the center.

That year marked a sharp uptick from previous years. According to Knesset report released last year, 2018 and 2019 saw 13 total cases of women killed by partners, and 15 total cases of women killed by other relatives. Another 19 murders over those years were unsolved or carried out by stranger.

Experts say domestic violence peaked in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns forcing people together and making it more difficult for victims in abusive settings to find help.

Shalva Weil, who heads the Observatory, said the end of lockdowns in 2021 was one of several explanations for the decrease in femicides.

“Another is the unprecedented media coverage on the subject of femicide and the significant work being down by Israel’s feminist organizations and associations. Additionally, this year saw several harsh verdicts for perpetrators, which may have acted as a deterrent,” Weil said.

Activists protest against recent cases of violence against women in Tel Aviv on March 7, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the Observatory, 50 percent of the victims in 2021 were Arabs (31% Arab Israeli and 19% Druze), 44% were Jewish, and one victim was from the African Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona.

In the Arab community, 125 apparent homicides were recorded last year, of which 14 (or 11%) of the victims were women.

The average age of femicide victims in 2021 was 45.6 years old, which was slightly higher than 2020’s average of 39.6 years, the report said. It claimed the higher average age was due to the rise in numbers of matricide cases.

The youngest victim was 27 and the oldest was 76.

Around 25% of the victims were stabbed, a third were gunned down, a third were strangled and another 13% were killed by other means, the report said.

Israelis light candles during a silent protest against cases of violence against women in Tel Aviv on February 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Domestic abuse complaints had been filed in a third of the femicide cases prior to the murder. In those cases, two of the alleged murderers had known histories of mental illness, according to the Observatory.

So far, eight indictments have been filed against the alleged murders. In three cases the perpetrator was deemed unfit to stand trial.

According to the Observatory, several “groundbreaking verdicts” were issued in 2021, including life sentences for the murderers.

The report said its data was gathered from local and national media reports and crosschecked with police databases, women’s organizations, and parliamentary reports.

To comply with the recognized definition of femicide, the report’s data was restricted to victims aged 18 and up, resulting in victims under 17 who were murdered by adult partners being omitted from the statistics.

According to Knesset figures, the peak number of women murdered by their partners between 2003 to 2013 was 19, occurring in 2011 and 2003, while the record low during that ten-year period was six in 2009.

Illustrative: a protest against violence against women in Tel Aviv, December 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Activists have long complained that not enough is done to prevent domestic violence in Israel, particularly in cases where the family is known to authorities.

In November, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who also chairs a new ministerial committee on gender equality, announced the allocation of NIS 155 million (approximately $50 million) for a national plan to combat violence against women.

In July, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered NIS 55 million ($17 million) be immediately allotted to efforts to prevent and treat domestic violence.

The money has been earmarked to partially fund the Welfare Ministry’s National Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which was approved in 2017 but has seen less than half the designated funds transferred for its implementation.

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