What was the prosecution thinking? That is a question no one seems to have a good answer to when it comes to the case of Yarin Sherf, the 21-year-old man who allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl in a coronavirus quarantine hotel.
The question arises because originally, when the prosecution filed its indictment against Sherf, it left out the rape charge and instead charged the man with forbidden sexual relations. The charge also included sexual harassment, threats, assault and supplying alcohol to a minor. But rape? No.
This, despite the accusation that Sherf raped the young girl while choking her and inflicting additional physical trauma. He also reportedly provided her with drugs and alcohol.
So, what was the prosecution thinking? Did it really think that a 13-year-old girl drunk and possibly high could really consent to sex with an older man? Did the prosecution really think that was possible?
Thankfully, the announcement of the original charges was met with protests and widespread backlash. The lobby against sexual violence in Israel and the Israel Women’s Network launched an email campaign in which over 25,000 emails were sent to the state attorney stating that the charges should include rape; crowds protested outside the court.
Women and men from across the country gathered in Tel Aviv outside the offices of the Tel Aviv prosecution to protest the decision. The protests and public backlash got the prosecution to amend the indictment and to charge Sherf with rape.
The girl’s mother said that she and the family were pleased that “the team of prosecutors handling the case were able to correct the indictment and charge Yarin Sherf with the offense he committed – rape of a 13-year-old girl.”
“It is a shame that only widespread public protest made legal authorities do what was obvious,” said Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg. “When 92% of rape cases close without an indictment, it is a sign that there is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. That is why we must make special courts for sexual offenses in Israel.”
Zandberg is right. Nevertheless, a special court for rape and other sexual offenses will only be effective if the prosecution does its role effectively.
First, the prosecution – the body in Israel that is meant to hold criminals accountable – needs to understand what the case is before it. The prosecutors need to bring the right charge to the court, the first step in ensuring that criminals are held accountable for their actions and punished according to the gravity of what they did.
Increased exposure to violence and porn combined with a lack of education, and a failure to enforce Israel’s laws against sexual assault are two of the main factors behind Israel’s epidemic of sexual violence, Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) CEO Orit Sulitzeanu recently told The Jerusalem Post’s Eve Young.
In addition to the Sherf case, three suspects were arrested in March for allegedly gang raping a 16-year-old. Four suspects were arrested in February for the alleged gang rape of a 13-year-old and another three were arrested in relation to the rape of a 10-year-old girl during a burglary. Five other men were arrested in December for the alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old.
In Israel’s most infamous case in recent years, 11 suspects were arrested in September in relation to the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old at the Red Sea Hotel in Eilat.
In nearly all of these cases, those arrested and indicted were in their teens or early 20s.
“Young people grow up watching porn as if it is part of life. This stuff gets in your system and they feel like it is normal and you can behave like that,” Sulitzeanu said, adding that there is no formal education in Israel about how unrealistic porn really is.
Education is needed to stem this wave of sexual violence. But no less important is for the state to create a deterrent so potential perpetrators know that their actions will not go unanswered.
That is why the decision regarding Sherf was so important. We hope the prosecution has learned its lesson.