The majority of people imprisoned for sexual crimes will be released before completing their full sentence, according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) annual report.
Released on Tuesday ahead of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, the report examines the phenomenon of violence against women in Israel, both through data on the treatment of sexual assault cases by the authorities and a collection of testimonies dealing with the legal proceedings of sexual assault cases.
Accusations of sexual crimes and indictments
The number of sexual assault cases opened with the police in 2021 was 17% higher than in 2020, with 6,922 complainants registering cases of sexual offenses and sexual harassment. Of that number, 83% of the cases were initiated for harming women or girls, and 17% were for harm against men and boys.
Of the cases opened in 2021, 43% dealt with harm against minors. Recorded sexual offenses against minors were up 19% compared with the previous year.
In comparison to the reports received by the ARCCI in 2021, which found that 90% of the victims reported to the organization knew the abuser prior to the reported incident, 60% of cases reported to the police said the abuser had been known to the victim beforehand.
Additionally, 15% of opened cases named a family member or spouse as the perpetrator, compared with 49% of referrals received by the ARCCI.
"In institutions such as the police and the IPS, which are also male and also hierarchical, we were exposed to painful cases in which women were exploited, harassed and harmed, and in the end, they paid the price for daring to complain rather than the offender being fired from his workplace.”ARCCI Director-General Orit Sulitzeanu
This indicates “great difficulty in filing a police report against a close contact,” the report said.
Despite an increased number of initiated cases in 2021, the number that reached the prosecutor’s office was 7% lower than the previous year. In 2020, 4,521 sexual offense and sexual harassment cases were opened at the prosecutor’s office, but in 2021, this number fell to 4,218.
Similarly, the report noted a decreased number of indictments being filed for sexual offenses in 2021, down to 717 from 744 in 2020.
Additionally, 2,279 sexual-offense cases were closed without an indictment being filed, with 275 of them involving at least two or more victims. The highest number of victims involved in any one closed case was 26.
Once a case is closed without an indictment being filed, the complainant may file an appeal against the decision. However, in 2021, 92% of all appeals submitted in cases of sexual assault and harassment were rejected. Of the 48 appeals submitted, just four were accepted.
Even if sentenced, offenders get off lightly
Israel Prisons Service held 1,187 prisoners and detainees for sexual crimes in 2021, up 14% from 2020.
One-third of all prisoners serving time for sexual crimes did not attend any sort of mandatory rehabilitation program, and 75% were released early and did not serve a full sentence, the report found.
Among those sentenced in 2021 for committing sexual offenses, 899 were male and three were female.
Of the people sentenced for committing sexual crimes in 2021, 239 had at least one prior imprisonment, and 5% of them had already been imprisoned five or more times.
Sexual offenses inside Israel Police, the IDF
Inside police departments across Israel, more than half of all complaints about sexual offenses committed by police officers were not investigated, and 87% of the cases opened were later closed without charges.
According to the report, 89 complaints of sexual offenses and sexual harassment by police officers were received by the Police Investigation Department in 2021, a 31% increase from the previous year, in which 68 complaints were filed. Of the complaints, 54% did not lead to an investigation against the alleged perpetrator.
When an investigation was launched, 87% of cases were closed within the internal police department, and 12 cases resulted in an indictment.
Eight police officers were convicted of committing sexual offenses, and one additional officer was acquitted. Four of the eight convicted officers received prison sentences, and four were sentenced to community service.
At the same time, the IDF has reported an 82% increase in complaints of sexual offenses since 2016, and the majority of all incidents reported to the IDF occurred in a military setting.
In total, the Gender Affairs Adviser to the Chief of Staff (Yohalam Unit) received 2,425 inquiries concerning sexual abuse, with 1,574 of them dealing with abuse inside the military. The Yohalam Unit provided support and treatment to 514 soldiers (female and male) due to sexual abuse, a 45% increase compared with 2020.
“A society bathed in sexual violence”
Regarding the increase in sexual violence across the IDF, as well as the Prisons Service and the Israel Police, ARCCI Director-General Orit Sulitzeanu told The Jerusalem Post: “Israeli society is a society bathed in sexual violence, and women pay a difficult and heavy price for it. One of the reasons for this is the fact that in Israel, many organizations derive organizational norms from the military, which is a hierarchical, masculine and, of course, militaristic organization.”
The military is not alone in enforcing and normalizing a hierarchical culture, she said, adding: “In institutions such as the police and the IPS, which are also male and also hierarchical, we were exposed to painful cases in which women were exploited, harassed and harmed, and in the end, they paid the price for daring to complain rather than the offender being fired from his workplace.”
Regarding where she thinks change will come from, and how it will be possible to even make such change, Sulitzeanu said: “There is still a long way to go in the fight against sexual violence, which requires the mobilization of men in positions of power and with the influence to produce profound change in Israeli society.”