At a time when we're all threatened by the Iranian nuclear menace and by Iranian-backed terror, it is obvious that tackling sexual harassment doesn't top our collective to-do list, and cases involving the crime are relegated to the back pages.
I wouldn't harass you myself if it were a question of an isolated incident here and there, but it's more than that - though it is made to seem less significant because for a long time now, the media outlets have been using the term "sexual harassment" even when reporting cases of sexual assault and rape. Thus, for example, we read about former minister Haim Ramon and the woman who complained that he "sexually harassed" her when in fact Ramon was charged with performing an indecent act that amounted to a sexual assault - sticking his tongue into the mouth of a girl who did not want him to do so. And we read about former president Moshe Katsav being summoned for further questioning over "sexual harassment" charges, when in fact Katsav was accused not only of sexual assault, but of rape, not the lesser charge of sexual harassment.
Not only the media are to blame. Members of the public - and even lawyers, who are supposed to be reliable when it comes to the use of legal definitions - often call sexual assaults "sexual harassment." It makes one wonder: Is this a matter of confusion? Of misunderstanding? Of not being able to tell the difference between harassment and rape?
Sexual harassment comprises looks, verbal or written remarks, "jokes," allusions, pressure or threats against women or men that refer to their sexuality in a manner that debases, offends, intimidates or silences them. Sexual assault means physically touching or harming someone, forcing her or him to submit to sexual contact, against the person's will and without the individual's consent.
Sexual harassment has been known as such for less than four decades. It is the name given by American feminists to the existing verbal and behavioral violence. It was an enormous step forward for women. This seemingly elusive injustice, about which a person could not complain because it had no name, now did have a name, and the harm it does was recognized, prohibited and penalized.
Sexual harassment had to be given a name. Rape and sexual assault already had names. But what happened next was that rape and sexual assault apparently vanished. Everything became "harassment" - a generalized term that turns all offenses, even the gravest, into that seemingly elusive thing that "ruins romance," that "makes it impossible to give compliments," and most importantly, that's "not so terrible," like some fly that has to be swatted away.
Sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape - they are all on the same spectrum. When the gravity of one is diminished, the entire spectrum is perceived as less serious, more forgivable. When rape and assault are called sexual harassment, the clock is turned back to the days when it wasn't at all clear what women were complaining about when they had a problem with the actions that constitute harassment.
Every third woman is a victim of sexual assault at least once in her lifetime, and almost no women have not been sexually harassed. These are the real terrors that menace more than half the population of Israel. Let us call them by their real names.
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