So now we know the best way to scupper a politician’s career: claim he sexually harassed a junior member of staff over a decade ago.
With the statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual offenses standing at 10 years, such an accusation will never be tested in court, but the mere fact that the claim has been made will be enough to permanently tarnish the targeted politician’s reputation, regardless of his guilt or innocence. Having had one rapist lord it over the President’s Residence, Knesset members will certainly think twice before supporting a presidential candidate who has publicly been accused of being a sex offender.
Or as National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom was quoted as saying last week by Channel 2: “This is a political assassination.”
Even if Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decides to close the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Shalom, the minister knows that his dreams of becoming the country’s next president have been shattered, well before he officially threw his hat in the ring.
But on the other hand, the allegations could be true. Sexual attacks are the most unreported of crimes and there is also nothing unusual in a victim waiting many years, if ever, before filing a complaint. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network in the United States, one out of six American women has been the victim of rape or an attempted rape, with 60 percent of cases unreported to police, and these figures are common across the Western world, including Israel.
Victims of sex crimes are not the only ones unlikely to report instances of abuse. According to a survey released last year by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), some 68% of people who knew someone who had been sexually abused never reported the case to authorities.
The reasons for non-reporting show a lack of confidence in being able to achieve anything positive through filing a complaint: more than half of respondents said they did not believe reporting the case would help; 33% said they did not report a case for fear of harming themselves or their relatives; and 13% said they feared people would not believe them.
FEW VICTIMS are as strong as former Israeli Miss World, Linor Abargil, who won her crown in 1998 only six weeks after having been raped at knifepoint while working in Italy.
Like many victims, Abargil knew her attacker, an Israeli travel agent in Milan, but unlike many, she went ahead and pressed charges, the result of which saw her attacker convicted and sent to jail. Throughout the trial, which took place in Israel, Abargil refused the offer of anonymity granted to victims of sexual abuse, insisting that she had no reason to be ashamed. In so doing, she lifted the stigma for many of being the victim of a sexual attack.
In a new documentary film, Brave Miss World, Abargil retells her story, and speaks to dozens of other victims from across the globe, many of whom are often telling their story for the first time. Now a lawyer, Abargil is adamant that women must speak up if they want to move on with their lives, telling the Associated Press: “If you go through something very bad or very hard, the only pill you can take is to tell, to take it out of your system. Because if you don’t, it is like a tumor – it becomes bigger and bigger until it kills you.”
SO WHERE does this leave Silvan Shalom? Is he the victim of an underhand political plot to deny him the chance of becoming the country’s next president? Or is M, the woman who filed the complaint, simply telling the truth when she claims that Shalom’s run for the presidency finally provided her the spur to tell her story? Unless the police succeed in unearthing other examples of alleged sexual abuse on the part of Shalom, it’s highly unlikely we will ever discover the truth behind M’s allegation and Shalom, indeed, might have been unfairly denied his chance to succeed Shimon Peres.
But if M’s belated complaint encourages other women who have been sexually attacked to file a report – before the statute of limitations on their attack runs out – then the greater good has been served, even at the cost, rightly or not, of denying Shalom a shot at the presidency.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.