22 Nov 2010

'Wives' and children of Israeli cult leader begin recovery from abuse with help from specialists and family members

YNet News - Israel February 16, 2010

Ratzon's 'wives' begin lengthy treatment

Experts say children, women belonging to Goel Ratzon's 'polygamist cult' may never recuperate

by Yael Branovsky

Law enforcement and welfare officials have begun their attempt to bring 'polygamist cult' leader Goel Ratzon to justice, but experts told Ynet Tuesday that the process of rehabilitating the women 'married' to him would be a lengthy one.

Many of Ratzon's 'wives' and children have been placed in rehabilitation centers at which specialists work to help them build a new life.

The Israel Association for Child Protection (ELI) founder and director, Dr. Hanita Zimrin, said Ratzon's children were victims of an emotionally harmful environment.

"This was not a normal family. The children were educated to worship a man and prevented from growing up in a normal environment, and each of their mothers was a victim. They grew up in an environment both emotionally and developmentally harmful," Zimrin said.

She added that welfare services should have intervened before they did. "Maybe legally there was nothing the welfare system could do, but sometimes you need to act according to moral guidelines," she said. "Anyone could tell this was an aberration."

Attorney Inbar Yehezkeli-Blilious, legal consultant for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), called for a legislation canceling the statute of limitations in cases such as Ratzon's.

"He acted as a pimp and deliberately tracked down weak women looking for someone to make their decisions for them. They lived in a perverted and aberrant sexual relationship," she said.

"Ratzon put pressure on his wives and they submitted because he had the status of a guru. The law must be changed and equated to that of a relationship of authority. Even if these women agreed to the actions, they did it because of the illusion of special powers they attributed to the man. From past experience, they probably knew of the harm being done to their girls, but lacked the strength to object."

Yehezkeli-Blilious said the women's rehabilitation could take years, and that she feared some of them may have been permanently damaged. "The situation is especially difficult for the girls who experienced incest. The implications there are much more serious," she said.

Gabi Zohar, a social worker with years of experience caring for cult victims, explained that even the women who are rehabilitated will probably remain emotionally fragile.

"Because of the brainwashing they underwent, they sometimes begin to idealize the past. On one hand this helps soothe the suffering, but on the other it creates an illusion about what they went through, and all of a sudden it doesn't seem so bad," he said.

Zohar mentioned Stockholm syndrome as a factor that would make it difficult for the women to testify. He said the victims' families should not pressure them to speak about the past.

"Family members should help the victims build a new reality, meet new friends, and create a new life. It is a difficult task, which requires a lot of patience."

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