The State Comptroller’s report released on Monday reported severe deficiencies in the way in which local authorities deal with sexual harassment among the 140,000 employees who work in the country’s 257 municipal and regional government authorities.
In one particularly egregious incident, a local authority did not involve the official responsible for sexual harassment oversight when dealing with a complaint, and placed the accused in a job with proximity to minors while a criminal case was pursued against the defendant for sexual offenses.
In another instance, a local authority did not even consider disciplinary procedures against a manager who admitted during criminal proceedings to sexually harassing an employee, and subsequently moved the complainant to a different job against her will.
The report specifically highlighted problems in Arab local authorities, where in many cases an official has not been appointed to tackle the phenomenon; regulations regarding what constitutes sexual harassment have not been established; and sexual harassment is barely reported at all due to societal and cultural concerns.
The report laid particular blame at the door of the interior minister, who is responsible for local government authorities, for failing to ensure the implementation of the terms of legislation passed in 1998 and 2015.
It noted that even though more than 20 years have passed since legislation on sexual harassment was passed, the ministry has yet to establish guidelines and procedures for eliminating sexual harassment in local authorities, and has not established oversight mechanisms for the implementation of the law.
One example given was the ministry’s failure to establish guidelines for appointing an official in every local authority for dealing with sexual harassment complaints or for such officials’ training.
The report also noted that the ministry has no information or data on how local authorities deal with sexual harassment allegations, how many complaints are made every year, and how such complaints are handled.
Some 40 local authorities have not appointed a supervisor for sexual harassment claims, in contravention of the law, while the ministry has not defined the scope and role of this position. This means that those appointed do not know what they should do and often do not have sufficient seniority to actually carry out their functions.
Fifty-nine local authorities failed to establish regulations for preventing sexual harassment, also in contravention of the law.
Another serious failing was of the Israel Police to establish procedures for passing on information about a criminal investigation to local authority employees regarding sexual harassment allegations.
DUE TO this failure, local authorities are not made aware when there is a criminal investigation into their employees’ behavior for sexual harassment or other sex offenses.
The report also noted specifically that Arab local authorities have in particular failed to implement legal regulations and requirements for raising awareness of the prohibition on sexual harassment among their employees and for preventing it.
It noted cultural issues, such as how many Arab residents of a particular jurisdiction know each other, including oftentimes the complainant and accused, and that victims are therefore hesitant to complain for fear of the issue becoming public.
The report noted that the rate of reporting for sexual harassment in Arab local authorities is extremely low compared to Jewish local authorities.
Between 2015 and 2018, there were just eight complaints of sexual harassment reported in 7% of Arab local authorities, compared to 364 reported incidents of sexual harassment in 48% of Jewish local authorities.
Additionally, only 59% of Arab local authorities have appointed an official for tackling sexual harassment complaints, compared to 95% of Jewish local authorities, and only 45% of Arab local authorities published regulations on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to handle such complaints.
The report also cited the answers of sexual harassment oversight officials in Arab local authorities about why Arab women are so reticent to report an incident. One said, “It is impossible that this will be dealt with quietly and this is what frightens the women. Everyone knows everything about everyone.”
Other officials explained that there is a general feeling among Arab women that a complaint will not be dealt with, and that people will say she brought the harassment upon herself.
One official said that an Arab woman would first think about the impact making such a complaint would have on her husband, brothers and father, before reporting an incident. Another commented, “Women do not want to harm their place of work or their income,” and that they are silent “in order to continue working.”
To rectify the problems found by the report in general, several recommendations were made, including that the Interior Ministry should immediately begin gathering information and data on sexual harassment among the local authorities.
The report also stated that the ministry was obligated to formulate guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment complaints, and for preventing the phenomenon, while procedures for local authorities to obtain information on employees who have criminal proceedings against them for alleged sexual offenses be put in place.
The report said that the Interior Ministry should formulate as quickly as possible an action plan for tackling sexual harassment in local authorities in the Arab sector “which is appropriate to Arab society.”
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