Almost half of the 8,508 reported sexual abuse offenses against women in 2019-2020 involved victims aged under 17, a new Knesset report has found. The report was compiled ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women that will be marked on Thursday. It was published for the Committee for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality, chaired by Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman.
Between 2019 and 2020, over 10,000 sexual offense cases were opened with a registered victim, and no significant difference was found in the number of cases filed per year, with about 5,200 filed in 2019, and a similar number in 2020.
But despite the number of cases remaining roughly the same, the number of sexual offense incidents rose, and there was a 5% increase in the number of offenses detailed in each case. Whereas in 2019, a total of 4,160 incidents were documented, in 2020 the number rose to 4,340.
This increase is largely attributed to sexual harassment offenses and public indecency.
Last year’s lockdowns are thought to be the reason for the increase of these particular events, due to the specific increase in incidents reported to have taken place online.
The report says that “men constitute an absolute majority of the suspects in police cases for sexual offenses with registered victims, no matter the age or gender of the victim.”
As of August 2021, when the research was conducted, 70% of incidents reported between 2019 and 2020 involved a suspect who already had at least one additional case filed against them with the police. Over half of all suspects had at least three previous cases, and 34% had more than seven open cases filed against them.
A significant number of cases opened in the last two years have not yet been investigated or closed, and are still pending, the report has found.
While 70% of cases filed in 2019 have been closed, the same can only be said for a mere 52% of cases filed in 2020, and 45% of cases from 2020 are still awaiting investigation, and, when they are looked into, many are likely to be closed without any legal consequences for the suspects.
Legal action has been taken in just 7% of cases in 2019, and only 3% of cases last year.
Additional data provided by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel broadened the picture painted by the report. It says that over 50% of the 50,000 inquiries they received concerning sexual assault and rape in 2020 involved incidents that took place in a domestic setting, and 52% were perpetrated against minors.
Some 37% of those who reported incidents to the ARCCI were said to have been victims of rape or attempted rape. An additional 19% complained of sexual assault, and 4% reported incidents of having their photos or information shared without consent. Three percent of complaints dealt with sexual assault incidents carried out by more than one person.
ARCCI reported that 4,652 cases were referred to the Education Ministry’s sexual assault prevention department during the 2019-2020 school year, but it is likely that the number of incidents is higher, as the Education Ministry does not register referrals from the Haredi school sector, which accounts for about 20% of all students in Israel.
The number also indicates an increase of 24% in complaints in comparison to the previous year, during which 3,752 incidents were reported.
As a result of the complaints, 194 education sector workers were investigated on suspicion of sexual offenses and assault between 2019-2020.
In the IDF there has been an increase of 105% in complaints of sexual offenses since 2015. In 2020, 2,261 complaints were received by the ARCCI, compared to 1,101 in 2015.
Most of the reports (68%) received through the IDF dealt with incidents that took place in a military setting, and only 719 reported sexual assault to the IDF’s Gender Affairs Department after it occurred in a civilian setting.
In 2020, 289 IDF soldiers reported incidents of rape or attempted rape, compared to 203 in 2015. An additional 705 reported sexual assault incidents, over double the number of people (302) who reported the same in 2015.
The increase in awareness and reporting of sexual offenses has not led to an increase in legal action being taken, however. The ARCCI report has found that only 20% of cases opened in 2020 resulted in an indictment being filed against the suspect.
“The data compiled by the ARCCI show that the epidemic of sexual assault is still one of the biggest challenges we face as a society,” Touma-Sliman said of the report.
“The data show that sexual assault, especially following the difficult COVID-19 period, does not exempt anyone – men and women, children and adults, young and old.
“The increase in calls to hotlines shows an important increase in awareness. Women and people who have been harmed today know more and more that sexual violence is illegal and illegitimate in every context. This is an important development, and this awareness needs to be further strengthened.
“However, when 80% of the cases that are opened do not lead to an indictment, the conclusion is that there are further intrinsic problems in the police and the prosecutor’s office dealing with the phenomenon.”
“Our annual report reveals the gap between the welcome change in public discourse in recent years, and the state’s continual inability to address the phenomenon of sexual violence,” ARCCI Director-General Orit Sulitzeanu said of the report’s conclusions.
“We have collected and published this data to show that this is not a localized issue, but a systemic and comprehensive problem.
“We call on the new government to view this picture and understand that systemic problems require systemic solutions.”