Exploring Israel's systemic neglect of sex offense victims

SOCIAL AFFAIRS: “He’s free and I’m in a nightmarish prison all my life, afraid to see him on every corner of every street and failing to recover.”

 A PROTEST against sexual violence against women earlier this year in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
A PROTEST against sexual violence against women earlier this year in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Daphna Ash was a 21-year-old lone soldier when she was drugged and sexually assaulted at a Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. Ash knows that while she was drugged, a man who was at the dinner sexually assaulted her, and another man at the dinner found them, helping her get away from the attacker. Following the attack, Ash pulled her friend aside hysterically, telling her that “he was kissing me and I didn’t want him to,” and that another man “saved me.”

Because of the drugging, Ash does not know exactly the extent of the physical attack she experienced.

The last thing she remembers clearly was getting up to help pour wine for some of the 30 attendees of the meal, and then her memories are only unclear snippets until she woke up in the hospital seven hours later.

When she returned to consciousness at the hospital, Ash asked whether she had been examined and was told that, because she came in with her clothing on and was not alone with her assailant for very long, only a urine test was administered, which came back inconclusive. No physical exam of Ash was done, and she was later told by police that because she had not been raped, her hair would not be tested.

ONLY 6% OF women who are sexually assaulted report it to the relevant authorities, according to a survey by the Public Security Ministry. They don’t even know about most of the instances.

 AYELET ROZIN BET-OR: Only the tip of the iceberg reaches law enforcement. (credit: Yehudit Harpaz) AYELET ROZIN BET-OR: Only the tip of the iceberg reaches law enforcement. (credit: Yehudit Harpaz)

One out of five women is raped, one out of seven kids – boys and girls – is sexually assaulted.

Time and time again, when victims are asked what they thought the biggest issues were, they said it was the consistent neglect by the police, the prosecution, welfare and the courts that left them feeling ashamed, guilt-ridden and worn out.

“Only the tip of the iceberg reaches law enforcement,” Ayelet Rozin Bet-Or, legal adviser to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post regarding the statistics presented by the ministry.

She explained that one of the biggest issues faced by sexual assault victims is the “arbitrary” statute of limitations.

“Many victims experience the slap in the face in which the system says, ‘We’re not interested in the crisis you’re going through,’” she said. “It’s an arbitrary line that no one can explain. The perpetrator can sit in front of you and say, ‘I assaulted a hundred kids. What can you do? There’s a statute of limitations.’”

This is an ongoing battle among women’s organizations: seeking an end to the red line that was drawn “thoughtlessly” that limits a person’s ability to report a rapist.

From the moment that a woman decides to report someone for sexual assault, she is faced with difficulty.

Medical treatment

First and foremost, a victim of sexual assault seeking to report the attack or to be treated should go to a post-rape examination site – such as a Center for the Treatment of Sexual Assault Victims (TSAV Center) – so that forensic evidence can be collected, whether it be drugs or signs of sexual intercourse.

Tohar Shani Zeytun was raped on February 19, 2017, in a business meeting in “broad daylight.”

She explained that the man had given her MDMA. She remembered the entire horrific event. She went one day later to a TSAV Center for evidence collection and treatment.

One month later, the center found evidence of her being drugged in her urine. The hospital, however, threw her culture away, and she was told that since she did not get a hair test – after she had been told that there was no need for it by the Health Ministry – the case was closed due to lack of evidence.

“Long story short, he’s free and I’m in a nightmarish prison all my life, afraid to see him on every corner of every street and failing to recover,” she said.

Filing a report with the police

The next step after being sexually assaulted is going to report the occurrence to the police. But with officers being left, for the most part, untrained in how to treat sexual assault victims, victims are regularly mistreated, shut down, cast doubt on, and so on.

Ziv Leibowitz, who became an activist for victims of sexual assault after she faced such a traumatic event herself, was hit on by the police officer that took her account. He asked her to get coffee with him multiple times in the middle of taking her testimony. He did not record or tape the session and did not find a female officer to take Leibowitz’s testimony despite her request. He also did not tell her to go to a post-rape examination site to have evidence collected, despite the fact that she had marks on her body.

The officer even had Leibowitz type for him during the investigation, saying he “doesn’t type fast.”

She told the Post that despite being violently raped and sexually assaulted by two men on Purim, the post-trauma she experiences from the incident is from her interaction with police.

“I left the investigation in shock, not wanting to believe that I came to an investigation about going through such a horrible incident, and that instead of protecting me, the officer flirted with and hit on me,” said Leibowitz.

The officer called her from his personal phone two days later, making small talk and wishing her “sweet dreams” at the end of the conversation, said Leibowitz, who added that that was when “I understood that I was in fact a sexual object during an investigation about the most horrible incident in my life.”

When the case was passed along to the relevant station, Leibowitz was called in for another investigation.

“Instead of being sorry with me about what I had experienced, the officer attacked me and made it seem like I was delusional for the entire investigation,” said Leibowitz.

Leibowitz said she felt the officer assumed she was lying for the duration of the investigation.

The slut-shaming she experienced as a result of the officer’s treatment of her made Leibowitz feel she couldn’t talk about the incident for months, and created a post-traumatic response for her, she said.

The Police Investigation Department, where Leibowitz had filed a complaint against the officer who hit on her, closed the case against him, saying that there was no “reasonable foundation that a criminal act was committed” by him. No one had updated Leibowitz, and she found out only when she called the department herself.

“Then I understood,” said Leibowitz. “It isn’t that I wasn’t raped or that they weren’t shocked by my story. It is Israel Police who care about covering for the disgusting officer who tried to harass me when I came to report a horrifying rape; and in order to do so, finds it comfortable to make the rape case small and try to let the horrifying rape slide... so as to try to make the horror I went through with the officer smaller along with it.”

Leibowitz later submitted a complaint against the officer to the police’s Department of Public Complaints, which found it appropriate to take disciplinary action against him.

Bet-Or said the association is trying to set up “dedicated training on sexual assault and on how to treat victims when they come to report it or when police officers encounter it.”

She explained, “All the people who are in the field who might come in contact with sexual assault victims have very big potential of finding someone who is drugged with the date rape drug or something of the sort, and we’re aiming to give them very basic training on how to approach sexual assault victim, and how to even instruct her correctly.”

Bet-Or said that, too many times, victims are told to “go take a shower” rather than to have forensic evidence collected or to go to receive treatment. “Sometimes we even hear that they give the wrong instructions,” she added.

Ash was a soldier when she was assaulted. She reported the incident to her commanding officer and was put in touch with the IDF unit that assists victims of sexual assault, and she said that she wished to file a complaint.

She was called by a police officer soon after, who took her testimony. Ash said the conversation was “extremely unpleasant” and the tone of the officer “nasty,” as she asked a series of questions that made Ash feel she was trying to get her to recount her story.

“Are you sure it happened? Maybe you didn’t say no? Are you sure?” were some of the repeated questions the officer asked Ash, even after she told the officer that her memories of the incident were not clear.

Ash was also told by the officer that if “she hadn’t said no, it was not assault,” which a professional later told her was untrue.

Ash couldn’t understand why the officer would tell her something false, or why the interaction was so unpleasant.

Her experience when going to the police station to file her complaint, while not as openly unpleasant, was also not a good one. An officer told her she should “thank god [she was] not raped. It could have been so much worse. You got lucky.”

Ash, experiencing severe panic attacks and filled with the pain of her trauma, said that she did not feel lucky at all.

“I think the police make it very hard for people who have been assaulted to come forward,” said Ash. “They make you feel extremely guilty for coming forward.”

Ash said she felt she had to fight with police to get them to take her case seriously. Despite knowing who had touched her without her consent while she was drugged, she had to fight the police to open a case against the man.

“I got the sense that if they couldn’t prove it, they didn’t care,” said Ash.

“If, God forbid, I were assaulted again, I would go to the police, but I don’t trust them to do anything,” said Ash. “I would go on the off chance they would do something, but wouldn’t expect them to do anything, because I don’t think the police actually care.”

The prosecution’s investigation

After the police report and investigation, victims’ files are transferred to the prosecution.

“In the courts, it’s a never-ending story,” Bet-Or said. “Many times, it’s experienced as this very humiliating process, even in the best courts that are very conscious of it. There’s still the cross-examination. There’s almost limitless postponements. It takes forever to manage an investigation in an Israeli court.

“Not all the judges are trained, or have had any kind of training... in what sexual assault is. Many of these systems treat this as any other offense, and it’s not. It’s got its special characteristics that require a special kind of treatment. Everything is on the table, and many times it’s a very hard process to go through.”

Leibowitz was told by the State Attorney’s office that her case was being closed because it was complex. When she asked if the suspects had been questioned, she was told that they had not, and that the police had sent the case to the state attorney’s office with a request to close it with no further investigation.

“I started to cry and explained to her what I went through, and in a short conversation she realized and felt that it wasn’t a case that should be closed, and agreed to send the case back down and to investigate one of the suspects,” said Leibowitz.

The men Leibowitz said had hurt her were both questioned, one not as a suspect and the other under warning that he was a suspect.

Leibowitz was later told by two lawyers she worked with that it isn’t at all uncommon for officers to hit on the women who come in to submit complaints about sex offenses.

“Tons of cops hit on people during investigations,” Leibowitz said they told her.

“The police didn’t protect me, and my attackers could still get to me,” said Leibowitz, who added that she sees her attackers around and worries they could attack other women.

Any woman who needs to submit a complaint about a sex offense should first seek help from a lawyer, said Leibowitz.

Victims of sexual assault are trapped in a system that consistently goes head-to-head with them, whether it be over their sincerity or the seriousness of their claims. The people who are given the authority to treat such delicate circumstances receive no training and oftentimes neglect or mislead victims at the most critical time of their healing. With nowhere to turn, the numbers – those 6% alone who actually report their sexual assault – make more sense than ever before.

If you or someone you know is facing sexual or domestic violence, please reach out to the following resources for help:

• Women’s hotline for the Rape Crisis Center: 1202• Men’s hotline for the Rape Crisis Center: 1203• Religious women’s hotline (kosher): (02) 673-0002• Religious men’s hotline (kosher): (02) 673-0000• Hotline for advice and assistance from the ELEM Association: (03) 647-7898• MEITAL – Israeli Center for Treatment of Child Victims of Sexual Abuse: (02) 633-3387/61, Sun.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-3 p.m.• El-Sawar center for Arab women: (04) 853-3044