The August 12 gang-rape of a 16 year-old Israeli teenager has galvanized Israel and with good reason. The alleged rape happened as the minor and “several” other girls her age, were on vacation at a resort in Eilat. Story is not unusual, it is actually painfully familiar. Young unchaperoned girls get drunk and find themselves in situations beyond their control. This case has Israelis enraged enough to take to the streets demanding action because “enough is enough” . The latest in a string of alleged gang rapes begs the question: is rape in Israel cultural, social, or neglect?
According to Orit Sulitzeanu of Israel’s Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, persecuting alleged rapists in Israeli courts is difficult. Statistics are disturbing. There is a sense and perception that prosecuting sexual assault or rape offenders is judiciary inconvenient. Ms. Sulitzeanu’s statistics should raise everyone’s blood pressure; nine out of ten assault perpetrators go unpunished, and 85% of rape and assault cases go unprosecuted. Between 2013 and 2018, sexual assaults rose by 15%. Her conjecture blames a culture that holds men to an image of manliness and misogynistic machoness; downplaying assault as a ritual of “consensual” advances. The Eilat suspects currently in custody have already lawyered up and dropping the “c” word as we speak. The police have interjected several text messages between the two suspects and the alleged victim, which unfortunately plays into the “she asked for it” narrative so prevalent to the defense of rapists.
Last year in Cyprus, a 19 year-old British woman accused 12 Israeli men of gang rape in a similar resort hotel. The woman recanted her “rape” accusation, and the men were set free. She spent four weeks in jail for making false accusations. She also had to apologize. The 12 Israelis returned to Israel to a hero’s welcome. Their manhood intact. The woman later stated that she was coerced and pressured by local Cypriot authorities into recanting her accusation. It seemed the easier thing to do. Cyprus is the number one vacation destination for a majority of young Israelis. Rape is not good marketing. She is not unique in opting to reverse her original report. Many women in Israel recant their accusations because it is simpler to say they had lied rather than be hammered by interrogations and innuendo. Lesser of the two evils.
I am enraged by a judicial double standard that creates an impotent justice system bogged down by loophole minutiae that throws most cases out of court. Technology is inadvertently a major “witness” in court cases involving rape and sexual assault. Besides being taken advantage of by men twice her age, the Eilat girl was also allegedly videotaped for posterity. This has become prevalent in most gang rapes. The perpetrators want a keepsake, a trophy. As predicted, defense lawyers in this case are alleging consensual sex. The run-of-the-mill perverted justification that the victim had alleged prior knowledge of being videotaped and thus given consent. The fact that she was drunk out of her mind and a minor to boot is conveniently omitted. In this case, the girl’s friend stated that the victim was so drunk she got sick and allegedly asked for help. A friend of a friend, took her to his room to “help”, and the rest is history. The victim was allegedly semi-conscious when found in the room with little ability to realize what was going on. Nava Dihi, the police spokeswoman has already attested to the fact that it was going to be difficult discerning who was the rapist and who was “just” a bystander.
I have very little knowledge of Israeli justice and criminal law, but when rape victims remain un-vindicated because of judicial loopholes; there is a serious problem. According to Ms. Sulitzeanu, rape cases are not avidly pursued, primarily because lawyers don’t feel that they can get a clean “win”. How big of them. When justice takes a back row to “winning” at the expense of women, then the justice system has failed. Are we surprised that most women do not report rape or assault? They are worn down in proving their case. It is easier to keep one’s mouth shut and hope for the best.
Most rape victims in Israel are afraid to come forward. They are branded, stigmatized, and shamed. Ms. Sulitzeanu’s organization started keeping tabs on rape hotline calls and reports in 2014. Since then, they have received approximately 250 rape calls a year, 55% of which are from minors. In 2018, the police reported 19 gang rapes; 12 involving minors. A recent rape case was closed because the authorities could not determine who had made the video of the rape. The victim was 11 years old. A poor testimonial to a society not protecting their youth, especially girls.
As a parent, one question dwells on my mind: where were the parents? When has parenthood de-evolved to a sorority of ineffectual adults that give birth and ask society to do the rest? The 16-year old victim was in the company of other potential victims, sans chaperone, sans adult supervision, and obviously sans moral or responsible guidance of any kind. What were the parents thinking? What exactly did they imagine their kid was going to be doing at a resort? Pray? Do mission work? Of course they drank, and of course they partied. That’s what teenagers do away from home, which is why I wonder if the parents feel any remorse for dropping the ball on their parenting. We put protective gear on kids, yet we find nothing remotely disturbing with sending an underage teenager to a resort with “friends”. We call them “minors” for a reason, because they need protection. We even have laws in place. Who was protecting those girls at the resort? Obviously not the parents.
Ms. Sulitzeanu extends her blame on an education system that lacks any guidance on young adult behavior. School age teenagers lack education and mentoring on sexual consent. Schools disregard the subject, and homes omit it. Neither teachers nor school administrators are trained or equipped to discuss sexual behavior. It is still culturally embarrassing inside and outside the home. Education Minister Yoav Galant has mandated that that sexual violence prevention be taught in schools this coming scholastic year. Would this have happened if the story had not gone viral?
Israel has a problem, and this time it is not Hamas. The enemy is within its borders. It is the systematic cultural and social acceptance of men behaving badly. It is the unfair and painful stigma on rape and sex assault victims that prevents them from coming forward and report. It is the unjust court system that treats rape and sexual assault allegations as untimely nuisance; quick to resolve to clear the court docket. It seems that not only high school teenagers need to be educated on sexual behaviour and consent. Grass roots education has to extend outside the classroom and into executive offices, religious groups, law enforcement, and the courts.
I sincerely hope that the Eilat story will not find its way to the back pages of some obscure newspaper. This was a crude wake up call to a political, religious, and cultural blase’ attitude toward rape and sexual assault. The problem lies deep in the nation’s psyche and it needs to be rooted out. Teaching sexual prevention in the schools is the first step. Maintaining the momentum is the challenge. Israel is better than this.
Halbinger. D. M. (August 20, 2020). Vacationing Israeli Teen Says She Was Gang-Raped, Shocking the Nation. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/20/world/middleeast/israel-girl-gang-raped-eilat.html
Times of Israel Staff. (August 20, 2020) https://www.timesofisrael.com/teen-victim-tells-police-gang-rape-suspect-offered-her-videos-report/