Abstract: Attitudes of Jewish Ritual Bathhouse Attendants (Balaniyot) Towards Helping Interventions in Cases of Interpersonal Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Attitudes of Jewish Ritual Bathhouse Attendants (Balaniyot) Towards Helping Interventions in Cases of Interpersonal Violence

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 10:15 AM
Union Square 20 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Lea Zanbar, PhD, Lecturer, Ariel University, Ariel, Israel
Keren Mintz Malchi, PhD, Lecturer, Ariel University, Ariel, Israel
Efrat Orlin, PhD, Lecturer, Sapir College
Anat Ben Porat, PhD, Lecturer, Bar ilan university, Ramat-Gan, Israel
Although intimate partner violence is a serious social problem, research on intimate partner violence (IPV) in faith-based communities is lacking. Within the orthodox Jewish (OJ) community, it is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of women are subjected to intimate partner violence, however - help seeking rates are low in the OJ community. Different intersections in the victim’s spiritual life provide an opportunity for disclosure of the abuse and turning for help; one of these is the monthly immersion ritual, a spiritual ceremony of purity which takes place at a designated location, the mikveh.

The mikveh is a ritual bathhouse used for purposes of purification by Jewish women after the completion of each menstrual cycle. Although a personal and intimate experience, it takes place under the watchful eyes of a bathhouse attendant, or balanit (balaniyot in plural). The balanit’s job is to ensure proper immersion, however many times her role takes on a deeper significance, as a witness to the violent acts endured, either through physical signs on the woman’s body or personal disclosure of abuse.

Despite the potential for identifying women at risk for IPV and providing them with assistance possibilities, surprisingly, the balaniyot population has not yet been investigated. The current study therefore sought to examine, for the first time, reports by balaniyot regarding identification of victims of IPV, as well as their attitudes towards interventions on behalf of these women, and the factors contributing to intervention attitudes.

Based on Goal Commitment Theory as the theoretical framework of the research, four categories of variables were examined as possible predictors of the balaniyot’s reaction to such disclosure, through her int to intervene on behalf of the woman coping with intimate partner violence: background variables, personal resources, organizational and situational factors.

A preliminary sample of 105 balaniyot was recruited by the research team via state-wide professional networks of the balaniyot, including professional conferences and internal email groups, ensuring anonymity and confidentiality.

Findings indicated that while 85% of the balaniyot expressed their belief in the importance of assisting women in stressful situations like IPV, and 57% reported on positive attitudes towards active interventions, only 32% of the study participants reported that they had actually received formal training to identify and assist victims of IPV. Hierarchical regression revealed five variables that contributed significantly to explaining the variance in balaniyot’s attitudes toward interventions in cases of identification or disclosure of IPV: religious affiliation, previous psycho-educational training on IPV, workplace spirituality, role perceptions and perceptions of violence, predicting 59% of the variance in attitudes towards interventions in cases of IPV.   

In presenting the findings, emphasis will be placed on the need for bridging professional social work services with community-based balaniyot who may find themselves at the front line of IPV disclosure by victims. In addition, the findings will be discussed in terms of the importance of specialized training programs for this unique population and possible risks if training continues to be lacking. Implications for researchers, practitioners and policy makers will be discussed.