Israeli society does not take statutory rape seriously enough, Orit Sulitzeanu, director-general of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said.

Sulitzeanu was reacting over the weekend to the reports that one of the country’s most prominent singers has had sexual relations with underage girls.

Last week, a 15-year-old girl filed a complaint to Tel Aviv Police saying she had consensual sex with the singer on a number of occasions in recent months.

“It is time that the public understands that statutory rape is a serious sexual offense, even if it is done with consent, and is punishable by up to five years in prison,” Sulitzeanu said. “In Israel, this offense is still considered unimportant, negligible, as a private matter that does not concern the public, and perhaps even romantic.

“Unfortunately, there is still no real understanding of the context of the exploitation,” she said. “If the allegations are true, this is a case of exploitation by a famous man whose public status may dazzle young girls and keep them from realizing that they are being sexually taken advantage of.”

Sulitzeanu explained that under the law, children under the age of 14 cannot give consent, and therefore, sexual intercourse between a man and a girl under 14 years old, even if she agreed to the act, is rape.

In addition, if the girl is 14 or 15 years old and is not married to the man in question; or if she is 16 or 17 and the sexual intercourse happened in the context of a relationship of dependence, with an authority figure, or under a false promise of marriage, then the act is “prohibited consensual sexual intercourse.”

“This shows that if the reports are true, even if the girl will argue that she had agreed to having sexual relations [with the singer], it is still a criminal offense,” Sulitzeanu said.

She made clear that “a 15- year-old girl is incapable of giving genuine consent” and that the adult is considered solely responsible for the situation.

“Adolescence is the age when boys and girls are exploring their wishes about sex and sexuality,” she added.

“In the educational workshops that rape crisis centers operate, we often meet young people who are confused and helpless in defining the boundaries between healthy sexuality and offensive behavior.

“The law recognizes the vulnerability of boys and girls at this age and protects them from situations of exploitation by an adult and situations where consent was not clear,” Sulitzeanu continued.

“We know that girls in these situations may feel shame and guilt, which leads many times to them hiding the issue and not treating it.”

Sulitzeanu said that most of the calls the rape crisis centers receive concerning sexual relations under the age of 18 are made by parents, other family members or educators.

Very few minors seek help themselves.

She stressed the importance of talking to youth and providing them with reliable information on the subject, as well as training educational staff to deal with sexual abuse and suspicions of abuse.

“As a society, we have a responsibility to avoid situations of social pressure and legitimization of sexual abuse, recognize the harsh consequences of sexual assault and condemn every case of sexual exploitation,” she said.

Ronit Argaman, director of the Argaman Institute for psychological services, counseling and training, also addressed the recent allegations.

“It is impossible to let go of the fact that an adult male, who has had previous romantic and sexual experience and who is a father, will not take responsibility for his decisions and sexual behaviors,” she said.

Argaman, a sexual educator and counselor who specializes in sex addiction, sexual trauma and problematic sexual behavior, said that “age difference is a vehicle for exploitation” and that it is “not surprising that a teenage girl, fan of the artist or not, will develop feelings of admiration for him and a desire to have intimate contact with him.

“Consent to sexual intercourse does not only refer to the verbal expression of ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but requires an understanding of the meaning of sexual behavior, the possible consequences – physical, emotional and mental – in the short and long term, and the ability to stop the act at any given moment,” she said.

“If the artist had stopped for a moment and thought about two things, it probably never have happened,” she said.

“First, ‘What would I do to a man my age who was trying to get sexually close to my daughter?’ and secondly, “How long and arduous of a process will the girl have to go through to heal the injury?’”

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