End harassment

Court gives IDF commander convicted of harassment a light punishment.

December 10, 2013 23:18
3 minute read.
IDF soldiers marching in Second Lebanon War

IDF soldiers marching in Second Lebanon War 311 (R). (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)

Last week, a lieutenant colonel in the IDF was convicted by a military court of sexual harassing three subordinates.

Women under his command, serving their mandatory service, recalled being touched inappropriately while working as his driver or assistant. They felt intimidated to come forward because they served under his command.

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They described being humiliated. According to reports the court found that the behavior was “systematic.”

However the court only gave him forty days of community service and 1,000 NIS in restitution to the victims.

The officer will retire from the army on a pension. By handing down such a light sentence the court has illustrated that the army is not taking seriously the issue of sexual harassment, especially of young women serving their mandatory service. MK Merav Michaeli has described the issue as an issue of abandonment of women in the IDF at the very time when the army is talking about the issue of declining enlistments. MK Michael Roison, chairwoman of the Knesset Lobby for Equality in Employment, sent a letter to Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz calling on him to “recognize the severity of sexual violence toward female soldiers.”

She stated further, “a verdict like this, which is scandalously soft on a senior officer…can cause significant damage to the ongoing struggle for gender equality and an environment free from sexual violence and sexual harassment in the IDF.” The IDF spokesman’s office has not responded to the letter, and the lack of response seems to only reinforce the feeling that the army is not taking this issue seriously. This was one of the rare high profile cases to gain media attention, and rather than handing down a tough sentence as was done with former President Moshe Katsav, the message has been sent that officers engaging in this systematic behavior, harming citizens who are proudly serving their country, will not be punished. Women who previously were considering coming forward to report incidents may now feel even more intimidated.

In 2011, a female Ethiopian soldier claimed that the commander of her base sexually assaulter her. When she complained, other officers retaliated against her and called her racist names. She went absent without leave, and the military police tracked her down. She explained her circumstances and although charges for her fleeing the army were dropped, the army refused to press charges against the officer.

Earlier this year a company commander was charged with 27 acts of sexual harassment towards male subordinates, mostly carried out during recruit training. Statistics show that there has been a steep rise in complaints of sexual harassment, topping 500 a year since 2011, around ten percent of which are filed by male soldiers. However only about 20% of cases are investigated and 5% result in indictments.

The plague of harassment extends beyond the army to the police force. Earlier this year the deputy commander of the Ayalon district was charged with two counts of rape and other sex crimes. He was jailed for eight years in November.

Women under his command, who were serving their compulsory service, claimed that because he was their commander they felt unable to complain. When they did complain, other officers in their unit subjected them to humiliating comments and further harassment. In late November it was revealed that Jerusalem district commander Niso Shaham is facing indictment on a variety of crimes, including sexual harassment, against nine female officers.

Sexual harassment and assault are society-wide problems and must be confronted at every level. However the recent revelations of large numbers of assaults and harassment in institutions such as the army and police reveal a pattern of behavior that is disturbing and particularly galling because women are conscripted by the state to serve in these institutions.

The numerous indictments reveal patterns of abuse that are not isolated, in many the judges have heard accounts of entire units where the behavior is tolerated and women in economic distress or asking for leaves of absence or other requests are encouraged to trade sex to receive their own rights. These assaults do not happen in a vacuum, they are often part of a culture of harassment. Those complaining are subjected to further harassment and officers often present stories of relationships being “innocent” or blame the women.

The army and police must send a clear message that these incidents are serious; that offenders will receive long and stiff prison terms, and that women who come forward will be provided protection. Internal investigative methods must be strengthened; when base commanders or district commanders are the assailants, the army and police must have the proper tools to go after even the highest commanders.

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