Tel Aviv women: More angry than scared

While Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi said Sunday that escaped serial rapist Benny Sela was probably in Tel Aviv, local women interviewed sounded more angry at perceived police incompetence than fearful for their safety, despite the overwhelming media frenzy surrounding the incident. "I don't want to sound blas about the security of women," said "B," who lives near Sderot Rothschild in south-central Tel Aviv, "but I don't think all this police and army going out to find him makes me feel more secure as a woman." "The problem is bigger than just this one manhunt. The police don't help me feel safe. I don't trust them to take care of the greater problem of violence against women," she said. Indeed, despite the nation's biggest ever criminal manhunt that followed Sela's escape Friday morning, city residents reported that their daily activities were unaffected. Miriel was working in a store near Ichilov Hospital when Sela escaped from the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court parking lot across the street. "Customers came in and told us what happened, but if people hadn't told me, I wouldn't have noticed," she told The Jerusalem Post. "It's something to wonder at, that this event took up as much media bandwidth as the fighting in Gaza." After all, she said, "I don't think anybody stayed home on Saturday or Sunday because of Benny Sela." While Miriel admitted she "walked home quickly yesterday, which I don't usually do," she insisted her fears were caused more by the fact that the police could make such a "mistake," and she's certain the force, "if only to clear its name, will do its utmost to catch him, and will bring in other security forces. I'm sure - I hope - that the maximum is being done." But not all those who spoke to the Post were as willing as Miriel to entrust their safety to law enforcement authorities. "The first time I heard Benny Sela had escaped, my dad was in the car," said Sharon, who frequents the area, although she lives in Givatayim. "He said to me, 'Sharon, be careful.' But I told him I can deal with it. I take karate." Sela's escape demonstrated why "all women need to learn karate," she said, since "these guys must become scared of us, and not the other way around." Sharon said the escape should provide a valuable lesson. Sela is "just a criminal celebrity," she said. "There are criminals who aren't psychotic and who live next to us and stand near us at the supermarket, and we don't make noise about it." The media hysteria, she said, was distracting police - and society in general - from dealing with the usual criminals, those who, for example, abuse their children on a regular basis. Sharon was not the only woman who told the Post that Friday's escape raised concerns far broader than the momentary threat posed by a particular criminal. "Benny Sela's escape is the nightmare of every woman," said Rachel, who lives in the club district of central Tel Aviv, "but the nightmare doesn't end when he's caught, because as we all know there are hundreds more out there like him." Instead the fear begins with less violent phenomena, she said, from men "who catcall at a girl to make her uncomfortable" to those who "beat their wives. A violent rapist," she said, "is just the most extreme example of this problem in Israeli society." So what's the cause of the problem? "I don't know if it's the military machismo or Arab pride that's rubbed off, but women as a whole are treated as second-class," Rachel said. "Once a woman is not an equal, it's just a matter of degree. It's a slippery slope to violence and abuse, and eventually to rape." In Rachel's estimation, Sela's escape may have an unexpected benefit if it encourages "an awakening in the educational system and the social leadership in this country to a much more widespread problem, the value of women." B agreed, expressing a feeling shared by everyone interviewed for this article. "There must be a change in the attitude of society toward women," she said. So while rumors circulated that the price of pepper spray in Tel Aviv had risen and the media was awash with the testimony of terrified adult women choosing to sleep in their parents' homes, conversations with women in central Tel Aviv (all of them conducted after dark) revealed a far different reality. As Rachel turned down a dark Tel Aviv side street she shouted back, "I'm more frightened of an incompetent police force than of some escaped street scum."