Amendment to sexual harassment law passes first reading

I hope and believe that this amendment will help us prosecute public officials who take advantage of their authority and abuse women.

Katsav enters Massiyahu prison_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Katsav enters Massiyahu prison_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Over the 15 years since Israel’s sexual harassment law was passed, a real social revolution has taken place. In the past, this all-too-common phenomenon was carelessly dismissed and victims’ pain remained unexpressed. Now, workplaces are able to set boundaries in relationships between female and male employees. Before the law was enacted, many people found it difficult to understand the concept of harassment in the workplace or why it was so hard for women who were being harassed to just tell their bosses “no.”
Over the years, the law has helped a huge number of women deal with harassment in the workplace, and yet there is still a very wide gap in the law, as was recently proven in the much publicized case of former Kiryat Malachi mayor Moti Malka, who was convicted less than a year ago of harassing two Kiryat Malachi residents who had approached him in his role as mayor.
The story goes like this: When your boss offers you a small raise just for going out with him for drinks one evening, the current sexual harassment law recognizes that you are in a position that makes it difficult for you to object.
As has been proven in the past, unfortunately, saying no in these types of situations usually comes with a heavy price. The type of boss that’s willing to use his position of power to harass you sexually is usually the same type of boss that won’t hesitate to fire you, or find other ways to harass you, if you injure his ego.
But what happens when the person in charge of collecting municipal property tax (arnona) – the only person who has the authority to cancel your debt – offers to help you out in exchange for the small matter of going out with him that evening? The law as it stands today does not recognize the fact that turning down such an offer could cost you dearly.
Civil servants work in a type of monopoly. If a bank clerk, for example, were to make an inappropriate offer to a female client, she could just get up, walk away and switch to a different bank. People cannot, however, exchange the municipal property tax director for another, and so resisting him could have dire consequences.
All too often we encounter situations in which public employees take advantage of women who are dependent on them by virtue of their positions, even if they are not employed by them directly.
For example, policemen harass female protestors, municipal employees take advantage of residents, government employees and hospital department heads abuse their positions of power.
Everyone who works in this type of position needs to know that taking advantage of their power and authority to sexually abuse, sexually harass or perpetrate sexual violence is not just repugnant and inappropriate, but also strictly against the law.
Fortunately, an amendment to the sexual harassment law I prepared passed its first reading in the Knesset. This amendment guarantees similar treatment in cases where a woman’s direct employer is harassing her or in cases where a public servant who is not the victim’s boss takes advantage of his power in a way that affects the victim. In both of these instances, women who were harassed will no longer need to prove that they resisted in order for the perpetrator to be convicted of sexual harassment.
In my previous position as executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, I encountered many serious cases and was alarmed by the injustices that occur daily in our society. I have set myself a goal to solve these problems through my work in the Knesset. I suffer along with all of the women who have been sexually abused, but who are not protected by the current law. I am frustrated along with the police and state attorney’s office when they fail to convict sex offenders because the law was not worded clearly enough to be applied to specific cases.
On a personal level, I am very proud that this amendment has passed another important milestone. On a public level, I hope and believe that this amendment will help us prosecute public officials who take advantage of their authority and abuse women who need their help, just because they can. Women in Israel do not deserve to feel like they are under siege – not in their workplace and not anywhere else.The author is a Member of Knesset for Meretz.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.