It wasn’t that long ago that marital rape was considered a private matter, and was condoned and ignored by law and society. It took years of hard work, especially by feminists, to change the legal definition of rape so that marital rape will be prosecuted as any other kind of rape.
Earlier this week we heard that the Israeli cult leader and polygamist Goel Ratzon was found guilty of aggravated rape and other sexual offenses, but was acquitted of enslavement charges.
Some people, mostly men, argue that since Goel Ratzon is sent to prison for many years it is not that crucial that he would be convicted of enslavement. But one of his wives, Ma’ayan, upon hearing that he was acquitted of the enslavement charges, shouted: “I was in complete slavery. If the State of Israel had not released me, I would have been serving a life sentence” (Haaretz September 8th)
It seems that in Goel Ratzon’s kingdom he was the omnipotent ruler and the subjects were his property and his slaves. It is true that he committed serious sexual crimes against his wives, and also against his daughters– most of whom were minors. However, to only charge Ratzon with those crimes is to take away the motivating force behind his actions, and to reduce him to a level of a regular sexual offender instead of addressing the magnitude and the danger of his vicious power.
The dictionaries, which I consulted for the purpose of writing this post, include in the definition of “a slave” a parenthesis with the word “past” (past). It means, that owning another person by law is a thing of the past. Merriam Webster’s new definition of a slave is “a person who is strongly influenced and controlled by something”
Barbara Crossette in the article “What Modern Slavery Is, and Isn’t” (NYT 1997) argues that modern slavery “ is identified by an element of ownership or control over another’s life, coercion and the restriction of movement.”
Indeed it is clear today that Goel Razon treated his many “wives” as his property and deprived them of their free will. They were not free to make choices or to control their own destiny. Their powerful master was the one who determined their way of life, and they were emotionally and physically dependent on him.
The fact that Goel Razon did not have a legal right to own his wives does not make him less of a slave owner. Unfortunately, the fact that slavery is illegal does not make his wives free women.
So isn’t it time to expand the legal definition of slavery to include severe emotional and psychical control like in the case of Goel Ratzon?
Today rape within the family is treated as a rape, similarly we do not need to search for a new word to describe the power structure within the Goel Ratzon’s family. It only takes a brave judge to point out that slavery is the right name for it.