Beinisch: Society has reduced stigma of rape victims

Supreme Court President praises "social revolution," but changes are not yet complete.

Beinisch (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch praised the “social revolution” in recent years in which victims of sexual crimes are treated with much more dignity and sensitivity, rather than being blamed for “inviting” the attacks on their bodies and souls.
Speaking at a Tuesday symposium at the Bat-Ami Center for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse at Jerusalem’s Hadassah-University Medical Center, which opened at the Ein Kerem campus in May 2009, Beinisch said it was “impossible to exaggerate the importance of the center” – the only one of its kind in the Jerusalem area and only the third in the country.
Until the first center was opened at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and the second at Haifa’s Bnei Zion Medical Center, rape victims – women, men and children – were sent by taxi to the Forensic Institute at Abu Kabir, which mainly performs autopsies. After examination, testing and treatment, the rape victims would usually be returned home by bus.
Beinisch came at the invitation of her court colleague, Justice Edna Arbel, whose daughter, gynecologist Dr. Sagit Arbel-Alon, heads the center.
Beinisch noted that victims of sexual crimes had long been stigmatized.
“There was no support for those who complained.
The common view then was that if a woman had been attacked sexually, she probably asked for it,” Beinisch said. “That was the common idea then. If not, they reasoned, why doesn’t it happen to everybody?” Now that laws protecting human dignity have been passed, she continued, the younger generation of professionals takes the new attitude for granted. Yet the fight for victims is not yet complete, she asserted.
She noted that when she was a young lawyer, society had been “very macho,” and the complaints of victims – especially women – had not been taken seriously, especially if there was no evidence that they had put up a vigorous fight against the attacker.
“Society lived in denial,” she said.
But today, it has been realized that victims can be so frightened and dependent on the attacker, whom they usually know personally, that they cannot fight back by screaming, scratching or biting, she noted. Only in a minority of rape cases is the crime committed by a stranger in a dark orchard at night, said Beinisch; in seven out of 10 crimes, the victim knows the attacker.
Arbel-Alon dedicated the four-and-a-halfhour conference to the memory of Hagar Barel, a Hadassah midwife and nurse who died of cancer a year ago after devoting herself to victims of sexual abuse and rape and worked hard to ensure the establishment of Bat-Ami.
The director said there was a “window of opportunity” of 72 hours after a rape, during which the medical dangers could be minimized, but the psychological trauma might require extended rehabilitation.
Tamar Siegel, a young Hadassah-Ein Kerem emergency room nurse who has been chief nurse at Bat-Ami for nearly a year, said that 107 people – the oldest a 75-year-old woman and the youngest a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler – had been treated there since it opened. One-tenth were men or boys, she said, and 79 victims were over the age of 12.
The multidisciplinary staff of doctors, nurses, social workers and others, operating in coordination with the Israel Police, work around the clock 365 days a year, but most of the victims come in at night.
The average victim remains in the center for five hours, during which he or she is gently talked to, undergoes a forensic examination, and takes medications to prevent infection with HIV and hepatitis B or C and to avoid pregnancy (if necessary). The center also helps victims get these medications free from their health funds without having to expose their stories.
Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, who addressed the symposium and is a gynecologist and lawyer by training, said she would press for the establishment of a fourth rape treatment center at Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba, as the Negev has none and victims have to travel to Holon for urgent examination and treatment.
A feature on the Hadassah symposium will appear on a future Sunday Health Page.