Police march on Remembrance Day..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The announcement on Thursday that another senior Israel Police officer was being questioned on suspicion of sexual harassment garnered severe backlash among women’s and rape victim advocacy groups.
Dozens of women from NA’AMAT – Movement of Working Women & Volunteers held protests outside police headquarters in several municipalities throughout the country.
Waving signs of support for female police officers such as “the police are harassing and we are worried” (a play on words in Hebrew), the women’s group said it was time for the appointment of a female police chief.
“We want to show solidarity with the brave female officers, who decided to lift their heads up and put an end to the sexual violence they suffered these past years, by their most senior police commanders,” said Yehudit Uliel Malka, chairwoman of Na’amat Ashkelon.
The most recent investigation into Coastal District head Asst.- Ch. Hagai Dotan for sexual assault follows a string of similar accusations of high ranking police officials that have made headlines in recent months.
“This affair is embarrassing on every level and it is very worrisome not only to the female police officers, but also to the public who see that this is what is going on inside the police – the very organization that is supposed to protect and enforce the law,” Liat Klein, legal adviser for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel told The Jerusalem Post
Klein believes that this latest incident is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
According to the ARCCI, in 2013 the association received over 40,000 complaints of sexual violence and of these only 15 percent of victims decided to file an official complaint with the police.
“When it comes to policewomen, there are even fewer who choose to complain – most of the assaults are never brought to light or revealed,” she said.
Klein explained that there was great difficulty in women coming forward to complain for numerous reasons, primarily because the women were forced to retell their experience and answer intrusive questions over every intimate detail of the assault – a very painful process.
Furthermore, the revelation is also often accompanied by a sense of shame, a fear of exposure and an atmosphere of victim blaming, she said.
“It is even more difficult when talking about a young officer in a hierarchical structure like the police – making accusations against people who have a lot of authority, people in very powerful positions,” she added.
“What happens when the complainant’s identity is revealed – suddenly she becomes the one who complained and the personal price is very difficult to bear,” said Klein. “Women and police officers who are accompanied by the association do not want to be exposed to this and so a majority chooses not to file a complaint.”
In fact, many of the recent revelations have come to light not through the victims’ complaints, but rather as a result of a co-worker revealing the alleged assault, she said.
Despite this, a number of female police officers have come forward in recent months, a fact that Klein credits to the advancement of services for victims of sexual harassment within the force. The services provided include; a special investigator into sexual assaults and a hotline for complaints – resources that were only introduced these past two years.
“It is very important that the police and law enforcement internalize these incidents and understand that this is a major problem and the only way to address it is by changing the system,” Klein said. “Until then, more sexual predators will continue to walk free.”