ramon leaves court 298.8.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Women's rights groups and those active in supporting victims of sexual crimes welcomed the conviction on sexual assault charges of former justice minister Haim Ramon on Wednesday. They said it was a positive step forward for Israeli women and urged other victims of sexual crimes to come forward with their complaints.
"Filing a complaint for sexual assault, especially against a public official, is a difficult and courageous decision," stated Tal Kramer, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, which provides counseling services for victims of sexual harassment, assault and rape. "Public officials or people in high ranking positions are not entitled to exploit their position," she said.
Kramer said that in light of the allegations of rape against President Moshe Katsav and Ramon's conviction, "these are not easy days for the women of Israel." However, she said, "The court's decision today sends a strong message that there is a clear distinction between flirtation, compliments and courting behavior, compared to complete exploitation of authority, where sexual crimes cause the humiliation of another person. A kiss is certainly not a romantic act if it is imposed on another person by force or coercion."
"Today, Israeli women and the rest of Israeli society can feel secure that there is someone looking out for their rights and trying to bring justice to light," commented Rina Bar Tal, director of the Israel Women's Network, an organization that advances women's rights. "I am delighted that the state of Israel's legal system has shown that it can enforce the rule of law," Bar Tal added.
However, other groups showed more caution, with Talia Livni, president of international women's organization Na'amat, saying that she was disturbed by the reaction of some politicians who, instead of trusting that Israel's legal system had delivered justice, were already talking about the need to appeal the verdict or change the law.
Livni also highlighted the fact that the character of the woman at the center of the scandal had been repeatedly questioned by the Israeli public and the media.
"Despite the air of suspicion surrounding this woman's allegations, [Ramon] has been found guilty of sexual assault," said Livni, adding that the verdict reinforced the principle that a woman's body is her own and should be respected by others.
Livni called for other women in similar situations to come forward and lodge complaints, adding that organizations such as Na'amat were committed to providing them with full support.
"Since Ramon's trial started and the indictment of the president for rape, we have received a large increase in the number of women claiming they were victims of sexual abuse or assault," Sarit Arbel, Israel Director of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) told The Jerusalem Post.
"We have seen how these women are treated by the media and we know that women are afraid to come forward, but we want all women to know that we will support them up until the end."
Arbel said this was especially true for the women who have lodged complaints against Katsav.
"The court has sent a clear message that it does not matter how important a person is, if they are guilty, they will be convicted," said Arbel.
"Please don't keep quiet," she urged.