Sexual assault accusations levied against Israeli doctors - Yediot

An investigation published in Yediot Ahronot revealed Israel's health system's systemic failure in preventing and sanctioning sexual misconduct.

  Israeli activist protest against Yuval Carmi, a psychologist suspected of committing sexual offenses and in support of Kim Ariel Arad who is one of the alleged victims of Yuval Carmi, in Jerusalem, October 24, 2021. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli activist protest against Yuval Carmi, a psychologist suspected of committing sexual offenses and in support of Kim Ariel Arad who is one of the alleged victims of Yuval Carmi, in Jerusalem, October 24, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

An investigation published in Yediot Ahronot's 7 days magazine on Friday revealed a number of sexual harassment accusations by women against doctors in the Israeli healthcare system. The professional rank of the doctors varied.

The article opened a Pandora's box, as dozens more complaints have poured in since then. Titled "The [woman] doctors' outcry," the article also described the health system's unwillingness to sanction the accused doctors and that victims are pushed out of the system after speaking out.  

The article was the outcome of a process that began two years ago after a group named "[women] doctor's room," in which women doctors realized that many of their colleagues had also been sexually harassed and that they were not the problem.

"With the emergence of the #MeToo movement, women from all walks of life have found the courage to talk about what is happening to them and the systems in which they work — including in the political or military system — and there was one place that cried out and was not talked about: the medical world," Dr. Daphna Shochat, an endocrinologist and director of the Gender Adaptation Clinic at Wolfson Hospital, told Yediot Ahronot. 

"With the emergence of the MeToo movement, women from all walks of life have found the courage to talk about what is happening to them and the systems in which they work - including in the political or military system - and there was one place that cried out and was not talked about: the medical world."

Dr. Daphna Shochat

"When they took advantage of us, when they blackmailed us for sexual favors and when they talked to us as if we were living 50 years ago — we thought that maybe these are the departments we work in, that it's something we exuded. In short, it's our fault. Suddenly, the Facebook group arose and things that had not been discussed between doctors until then began to surface."

When did this happen? 

The complaints mentioned in the article and in a follow-up article on June 6 were varied. According to the report, most of the incidents occurred on late-night or weekend shifts in which women doctors and nurses found themselves alone with doctors.

But other instances of alleged assault occurred in broad daylight and during standard workdays, including inappropriate comments and even groping while the women were examining a patient or leaning over a patient on a surgical table.

 Doctor listening to a patient, illustrative. (credit: DEPOSIT PHOTOS) Doctor listening to a patient, illustrative. (credit: DEPOSIT PHOTOS)

Although not mentioned by name, the article noted that some senior doctors were known to be sexual predators but were still working in their positions, while their victims' careers were sidelined.

What has the government done to help?

In November, a report that was compiled by the Shamir Medical Center and submitted to the Health Ministry's gender equality trustee described the state of a culture of sexual harassment by doctors and other medical staff. The report also included specific recommendations to fight it.

Despite these efforts, a new policy against sexual harassment announced by the Health Ministry on May 23 was met with harsh criticism since it left out some of the report's most important conclusions.

According to the policy, every medical institution is required to have a point person responsible for complaints, and a disciplinary committee comprised of equal gender and social makeup as much as possible.

Also, the committee must have at least one person who has undergone training on how to deal with sexual harassment complaints. Complaints must be addressed within a "reasonable" amount of time and the complainant should not be harmed in any way by the complaint. The victim and the perpetrator should receive the results of the investigation and each institution's data and actions on the issue would be presented annually to the national sexual harassment trustee.

What the policy missed

What the policy did not address, contrary to recommendations, was the need to share information between medical institutions about serial harassers; sexual harassment trustees do not have sufficient professional experience and are not granted professional assistance; the process of nominating the disciplinary committees was not transparent, and more, according to the website of Israel's Association of Public Health Physicians.

"We must not tarnish all doctors, thousands of whom have done nothing wrong, so I do not think it is a struggle that belongs only to women - every decent doctor in the system should condemn the phenomenon, and men must not cooperate - not even by remaining silent," dentist Dr. Maya Rozenfeld told Yediot Ahronot.

"Many of the testimonies we received included examples of someone [being harrassed] or someone who witnessed someone else being harassed, and no one said anything. There is a fear that if you say something, it will hurt you professionally."