Israeli rape victims need to know: You’re not to blame, you’re not alone

How is this a society in which women are free and equal when our celebrities, star athletes, and pop stars are given a free pass to repeatedly violate underage girls?

Demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of a 16-year-old victim of a gang rape in Eilat. August 2020  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of a 16-year-old victim of a gang rape in Eilat. August 2020
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
I read the story in horror this week. Yet another young girl, only 16 years old, became the victim of a rape in Eilat, where multiple men lined up to violate her and reportedly recorded the incident. Social media quickly erupted with opinions and outrage over the rape, with initial reports claiming that 30 men violated the minor.
Naturally, most were horrified, but within only minutes of the story breaking, comments began pouring in doubting the veracity of the story, claiming the minor was “merely drunk,” and in some cases, “wanted” it to happen. These responses are a product of a lack of education and a painful failure of the State of Israel to deal with women’s issues.
Aside from the fact that a drunk woman is legally incapable of consent, and aside from the fact that the woman, nay, child, was 16 years old, the response from so many Israelis demonstrates the heart of the problem. It demonstrates the reason that after dozens of murders of women, thousands of sexual assaults against women, and tens of thousands of cases of domestic violence against women, we are no better as a society in protecting our women and girls than we were five, 10 or 20 years ago. As the protesters in Tel Aviv chanted in response to the incident, “It’s not a mistake, it’s the culture.”
But, you say, Israel is the most progressive country in the region for women. That may well be true. But what does it matter if our teenage boys are flying to Cyprus with their friends, videotaping a gang bang of a British teen and uploading it to Pornhub? What is progressive about a society in which we welcome home boys who disrespect and violate women in the most profane ways with champagne and singing of Am Yisrael Chai”?
How are we promoting equality when we allow dozens of women to be murdered because our police fail to enforce restraining orders, or when they don’t want to “get involved” in internal family affairs with our Arab-Israeli sisters? How is this a society in which women are free and equal when our celebrities, star athletes, and pop stars are given a free pass to repeatedly violate underage girls?
Not only do they get away with it, but other public figures even defend the rapists and slut-shame the victims. Let’s not forget the degrading and humiliating way the Israel Police treat victims of both sexual assault and domestic violence, from the second a report is filed to the “confrontation” in which investigators force victims of sexual assault to sit face-to-face with their rapist or assaulter and recount the entire events for the police record.
THIS IS NOT a left wing or right wing issue.  This is a human rights issue. We have been protesting for years over the exact same issue, and the government continues to fail to prioritize proper financing and accountability for combating domestic violence, for prosecuting and investigating rape and sexual assault, for holding perpetrators of femicide accountable, and perhaps worst of all, for educating our next generation of young men on how to treat women.
The Israeli education system has all sorts of requirements for teens, including a course of safety in driving. But a course on consent seems too much to ask when we have a rising epidemic of sexual assault. Our teens are committing some of the most horrific crimes imaginable, and yet our government and police are twiddling their thumbs, doing nothing.
In August 2019, eight teenagers raped an 11-year-old in northern Israel. In September, another gang rape involved minors. What kind of society are we raising young men and women in when this is behavior they are taught is acceptable?
The statistics speak for themselves on Israel’s abysmal record in combating rape. Nine out of 10 rape cases in Israel are closed by prosecutors without any conviction, despite the fact that the number of people reporting sexual assault rose 40% from 2013 through 2019. Data from 2019 also shows that 63% of gang rape cases were committed against girls ages 13 to 18. How many more women must be murdered, abused or raped before this government will take action? We are outraged, but our outrage is nothing new.
When 25 women were murdered in 2019, we protested. When Roan al-Katnani, Maya Vishniak, and nine others were murdered by their partners or families in 2020, we protested in the streets. When our fellow Israeli sisters were murdered by men known by the police to have criminal records of domestic violence, we protested again, during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than $70 million was earmarked for combating domestic violence in the previous government’s budget, yet it was never allocated because of a lack of public interest and political bureaucracy. Where is the accountability?
President Reuven Rivlin wrote a lengthy response to the recent tragedy, correctly noting the uniqueness of crimes of rape and sexual assault. “Sexual assault, rape, sexual exploitation, sexual violence, are stains that cannot be erased,” he wrote. “These are instances of unforgivable loss of boundaries and are destroying us as a society.”
Sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking and gang rape, are all products of a culture that is sick, that lacks education, and that is teaching young men and women that women are objects, not equals. We cannot even begin to fix the problem until we acknowledge that Israel has abandoned us as women, whether Jewish or Arab, young or old, religious or secular.
When faced with evil such as rape, in the words of President Rivlin, “Do not stand aside. Do not take part in the silence.”
We will not be silent, and to the survivors of sexual violence, we must say, “I believe you, You are not to blame, and you are not alone.”
For the sake of our women and girls, for the sake of the next generation of Israeli women (and men) we must do better.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.