Gang rapes in Israel: A spike in cases or business as usual?

What has led to the rate of sexual assaults in Israel?

"You are not guilty," read signs at the protest against the recent violence against women, March 15, 2021.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
"You are not guilty," read signs at the protest against the recent violence against women, March 15, 2021.
Recent reports of multiple gang rapes of minors, the youngest of whom was 10-years-old, have brought public attention to gang sexual assault in Israel, where the rate of violent sexual offenses is approximately 10% higher than the average for OECD countries, according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), which cited information published by Israel’s Public Security Ministry.
Increased exposure to violence and porn combined with a lack of education, and a failure to enforce Israel’s laws against sexual assault are two of the main factors behind Israel’s epidemic of sexual violence, according to ARCCI CEO Orit Sulitzeanu.
Three suspects were arrested in March for allegedly gang raping a 16-year-old. Four suspects were arrested in February for the alleged gang rape of a 13-year-old and another three were arrested in relation to the rape of a 10-year-old girl during a burglary. Five other men were arrested in December for the alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old.
In Israel’s most infamous case in recent years, 11 suspects were arrested in September in relation to the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old at the Red Sea Hotel in Eilat.
In nearly all of these cases, those arrested and indicted were in their teens or early 20s.
Between 2014 and 2017, approximately 40% of the victims of gang sexual offenses were youth (aged 13 to 18). In 2018, they made up 60% of the victims of gang sexual assault – a 50% increase.
In 2018 and 2019, the proportion of the nearly 25,000 sexual offenses reported to ARCCI classified as “gang sexual offenses” was approximately 3%. In 2018 the proportion stood at 3.3% and in 2019 it was 3.5%.
Exposure to porn and online violence that is compounded by a lack of education around sexual assault and consent is one of the biggest factors in Israel’s sexual violence epidemic, said Sulitzeanu.
“Young people grow up watching porn as if it is part of life. This stuff gets in your system and they feel like it is normal and you can behave like that [in a violent way],” she said, adding that there is no formal education in Israel about how unrealistic porn is.
Education on sexual assault and consent is not adequately standardized or mandatory in Israel according to Sulitzeanu. In some instances, educators will devote time to the topic or schools will focus on education surrounding sexual assault after an incident of sexual violence has already happened, she said.
“Everyone learns about road safety; why is it not more basic to learn about protecting your body?”
SULITZEANU LAMENTED the fact that Israel does not have special units within the court system that handle the prosecution of cases of sexual assault, which is another major factor contributing to sexual violence in the country. This lack of special units means that judges are often insensitive, blame victims, or treat cases with contempt – and that many cases never make it to a judge in the first place. “Some cases close because there is no system that understands sexual offenses,” she said.
Israeli has “good laws” on sexual assault, but inadequate enforcement of these laws. This means that people use “legal tricks” to avoid retribution for assaults and many assailants avoid punishment and prosecution. “People are not afraid to hurt. There is no fear or retribution,” to deter people from sexual assault, the ARCCI CEO said.
Sulitzeanu used remarks reportedly made by Yarin Sherf, who has been indicted for violent and sexual offenses against a 13-year-old girl who was in quarantine in the same coronavirus hotel as him, to demonstrate this lack of fear of retribution. Sherf reportedly told the girl that he would do “Eilat 2” to her, referring to the gang rape of a 16-year-old in which 11 were indicted.
“He said Eilat 2 because he doesn’t think the rapists will sit in jail,” she said.
Israel’s above average incident of sexual violence when compared to OECD countries also stems in part from the geopolitical realities of the country, Sulitzeanu said.
Israel’s need to fight for existence creates a militaristic society in which there is a feeling of need for strong young men, she said. But lack of proper education transforms this need into something dangerous.
“The education for ‘manliness’ in Israel is not an education for sensitivity or empathy,” said Sulitzeanu, commenting on what she called Israel’s “warped” view of what manliness is.
This creates a society that can be violent, chauvinist, macho and overbearing, says Sulitzeanu, adding that it doesn’t have to be this way. “You can be strong and not sexually assault,” said Sulitzeanu, who emphasized that lack of education is a large part of what allows this need for manliness and strength to become violent and overbearing.
The coronavirus crisis emphasized what many know about the Start-Up Nation: “We can solve problems,” said Sulitzeanu, adding that it is time Israel turned its attention to solving its epidemic of sexual violence.