newsIsrael at War

The trauma of pregnancy by rape added to the anguish of captivity

"I as a mother can’t imagine how sad a day it would be for my daughter if she is pregnant,” says Israeli hostage's mother.

Protesters decry the crimes against women committed during the Hamas terrorist attacks of Oct. 7, outside U.N. headquarters in New York, Dec. 4, 2023. Photo by Yakov Binyamin/Flash90.
Protesters decry the crimes against women committed during the Hamas terrorist attacks of Oct. 7, outside U.N. headquarters in New York, Dec. 4, 2023. Photo by Yakov Binyamin/Flash90.

Relatives of women held by Hamas in Gaza participated this week in a briefing on sexual violence and forced pregnancies, as hostages mark nine months in captivity.

“I have five children. They are all beautiful sunshine and light. I taught them to set boundaries and say when something is pleasant or unpleasant to them. I taught them to say, ‘This is my body, please don’t touch it’,” Meirav Leshem Gonen told journalists.

On Oct. 7, Leshem Gonen’s daughter Romi, 23, was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists from the Supernova music festival as she tried to escape with three of her friends by car. She was the only survivor.

Dr. Einat Yehene, a clinical neuropsychologist and rehabilitation psychologist, participated in the briefing organized by MediaCentral, a Jerusalem-based media liaison service center, and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. Yehene serves as the head of rehabilitation in the forum’s health division.

“The trauma of captivity, coupled with sexual abuse, can have a profound and long-lasting impact on both the physical and psychological well-being of returning hostages. This may include symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression,” she said. 

“The addition of a potential pregnancy on top of the trauma of captivity can add layers in the recovery process, not only for returning hostages but for families accompanying them,” she continued.

Yehene went on to discuss the risks and the impact of pregnancy after captives return home.

“The discovery of pregnancy upon return itself can be a deeply complex and emotionally charged situation that could lead to a range of emotions including shock, confusion, fear and conflicting emotions regarding the pregnancy itself,” she said. 

“Any pregnancy following trauma can pose significant health risks given the poor conditions in captivity, including lack of exposure to light, poor nutrition and lack of proper access to medical care,” Yehene continued. 

“Pregnancy is visible, which can make returning hostages feel exposed and that their personal trauma is on public display without them having to disclose it, especially when coupled with the loss of anonymity in captivity,” she said. 

Yehene predicted differences in individual former hostage’s experiences and emphasized the need to create safe and non-judgmental environments and protect their privacy.

Kibbutz Be'eri
Amid the ruins of Kibbutz Be’eri after Hamas terrorists attacked, Dec. 20, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

On Tuesday, a video of IDF field observer Daniella Gilboa, kidnapped from the Nahal Oz military base, was released to the public with the family’s consent.

Her family received the proof-of-life video four months ago but until now withheld it from the public to prevent it from being used to help Hamas.

“You may know my daughter from the video that Hamas released on day 107,” Orly Gilboa, Daniella’s mother, said at the briefing.

“In that video, Daniella seems strong and very tough, but as her mother, I can see that she is in a very bad mental state. We sought a psychological opinion which confirmed that she is in a bad state, and today, 170 days later, I assume she isn’t better,” she added. 

Reflecting on the somber nine-month milestone, Gilboa said, “Nine months can be a very happy day, but in this situation when a young lady is in the hands of a terrorist group that we know engages in sexual abuse and rape, I as a mother can’t imagine how sad a day it would be for my daughter if she is pregnant,” Gilboa said. 

“These are very hard days but I let myself feel optimistic, because we understand that there is a [hostage exchange] deal on the table,” Gilboa said.

“I call on my prime minister and the Israeli government not to give up and to push with all their strength to make this deal happen, nine months is too long,” she added. 

Leshem Gonen emphasized at the briefing, “Nine months is too long, for women especially, and it is our responsibility to make sure they come back now.”

She described her daughter’s kidnapping by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

“I was speaking with her for 45 minutes and heard everything around her. I heard shooting, terrorists coming closer to the car, opening the door, trying to start the car, noticing she was still alive, opening the door on her side, and dragging her from her beautiful hair on the road like she was a rag doll.”

Leshem Gonen revealed that she has since learned from hostages who returned in November’s captive release arrangement with Hamas, that when Romi raised her head towards her captors during her abduction, she was punched in the face and bruised for days. 

“This is a badge of shame for us all that young women are still held at the hands of pure evil for more than 270 days, and we are duty-bound to them and to ourselves to make sure they return now,” Leshem Gonen said. 

As mediators work to revive the phased ceasefire outline President Joe Biden presented in May, an Israeli delegation led by Mossad Director David Barnea arrived in Doha on Wednesday to continue the negotiations. 

White House Middle East adviser Brett McGurk departed Israel for Doha on Wednesday as well to participate in the talks after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day. 

During the meeting with Netanyahu, the prime minister stressed his commitment to an agreement, “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved,” according to his office.

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