In a new study initiated by the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) in cooperation with Dr. Anat Ben-Porat of Bar-Ilan University’s School of Social Work, 25 women who had left an abusive relationship were studied to examine the effects of the war on the lives of the participants.
This study was performed in light of the current war in Gaza, which broke out in Israel on October 7, 2023. Research indicates that, in general, in times of war, domestic violence increases, specifically towards women. Women victims of domestic violence who have separated from their spouses are especially vulnerable.
During wartime, this increased vulnerability is caused by the potential awakening of past traumas amid the violence of the war, prolonged disruption of the children’s education system, transportation disruptions, and loss of income, among other reasons.
In addition, as single mothers, these women need to be the central or sole figure caring for the children and providing them with a sense of security. Their vulnerability may also be increased by the substantial curtailment of public health activities, as resources are often diverted to the war effort. As such, there is a significant decrease in the accessibility of formal services.
Challenges for survivors
The phase of leaving an abusive relationship is a critical juncture and includes many challenges for survivors. In this period, survivors need significant support and resources to address issues such as employment, single-parenting, well-being, and managing relationships with their ex-partner.
This qualitative study examines the unique challenges women victims of domestic violence face following the October 7 massacre and during the war in Gaza.
The study focused on two questions: What were the women’s experiences after the war broke out in various areas of their lives? And what were their needs in the current situation, and how could they be helped?
All 25 participants in the focus groups were members of the “Growing Together” program at WIZO, which supports survivors of domestic abuse. The meetings for these focus groups were held in November 2023 after a month of war in Israel.
The findings of the study indicate psychological effects, family challenges, loneliness in the community, and the use of coping mechanisms.
Survivors have been flooded with difficult memories, fear, accumulation of stress, regression, withdrawal, and physical reactions due to the stress. Survivors experience challenges with taking care of their children and with their ex-partner. Survivors also turned to coping methods such as suppression and pharmaceuticals.
The research showed that the personal trauma, compounded with the collective trauma of the war, created a situation of overload and an accumulation of stressors and difficulties, which has set these women and families back in terms of their adaptation to life free from their former partner’s violence, emotionally and financially.
The study calls on local communities, service providers, policymakers, and leadership to strengthen the chain of services that is necessary for survivors of domestic abuse.