Woman who escaped from cult leader accuses state of neglecting her case

Haaretz, Israel/July 2, 2010

The woman who exposed a polygamist cult whose leader was later charged with enslaving and abusing his numerous "wives" says the authorities have abandoned her, giving her none of the help and benefits that other women in her predicament have received.

On the night of September 9, 2008, a woman in her early 20s slipped out of her apartment in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood and walked hunched over in the dark, hiding on the roadside whenever a car passed. When she reached the Nokia Arena in Yad Eliyahu she took off her skirt, put on pants, took off her headcloth and let her hair down.

She was the first of Goel Ratzon's "wives" who managed to escape and file a police complaint, launching the covert inquiry that culminated with his arrest two years later.

Seven months ago he was indicted on charges of polygamy, rape, incest, enslavement and various forms of sexual abuse.

"The charges expose a ghastly lifestyle," the Tel Aviv district prosecutor wrote in the indictment. "They outline the defendant's actions over the years against his 21 wives, whom he took and enslaved, in violation of all moral norms, and in ways reminiscent of the darkest times in human history."

Prosecutors said Ratzon, 60, subjected his 21 partners and 38 children to strict disciplinary measures. For two decades he subjugated the women to satisfy his financial and sexual desires, the prosecutors said.

Recently, after she contacted the other women, she found out that the authorities helped them find housing, jobs and medical treatment, while she was offered none.

"I feel hurt," she says. "After all the publicity and interviews they left me, a young woman of 24, to deal alone with something too big for me to handle. As far as they're concerned, I've done my bit and they don't need me anymore."

She was 5 years old when her mother brought her and her two sisters to Ratzon's home to live. Her mother worshipped Ratzon, as did the other women in his household. When she turned 16 the women gave her a birthday party and Ratzon gave her a ring. Shortly afterward they were married.

Filled with pride, she had Ratzon's name tattooed on her neck and his image on her hands. In the first few years she was Ratzon's most faithful "wife." At 19 she started having doubts and thought about leaving home. "He started to disgust me," she says. "I couldn't stand his smell and his caresses made me shudder."

The women, who noticed her changed behavior, started pressuring her to get pregnant, to ensure her loyalty to the family and make her give up any idea of running away, for that was their greatest fear.

"One day I sneaked away from work to a gynecologist and got a prescription for birth control pills," she says. "I took them without anyone knowing."

At 22 she decided to run away. A woman whose house she cleaned helped her find a basement apartment in Holon. Later she moved to Ashdod and one morning heard that Ratzon and the other women were arrested.

"After contacting the other women, I realized they received housing, work, different names and doctors who helped them remove the tattoos for free. I wasn't even offered any of these things," she says.

"I was in that house from the age of 5. I had no freedom of choice. If anyone had cared what was going on in that house, I wouldn't have these tattoos today. I was fired from work in a hotel and a supermarket because they said my tattoos made me unsuitable for the post; the customers don't like to see them. It costs NIS 450 an hour to erase the tattoos; I don't have that kind of money," she says.

"I feel the state is now acting against me. All I want is to start a new life. I'm not asking for anything the other women aren't getting."

Menachem Vegshel, deputy director general at the Social Affairs Ministry, confirmed that the women who were in the house at the time of the raid were looked after first. He said the first complainant wasn't taken care of because "the police didn't tell us there was any need." He said the women with children were the ministry's first priority.

The police said the ministry was involved from the start and knew of the complainant's needs all along.

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