Sexual Harassment Bill Advances, in Bid to Make Prosecution of Public Officials Easier

Would eliminate need to prove woman’s opposition to sexual advances in such cases.

The Knesset Committee on the Status of Women approved on Wednesday an amendment to the law against sexual harassment, one that would make it easier to prosecute public officials and civil servants for the crime by eliminating the prosecution’s need to prove the victim’s opposition to the sexual advances.

The amendment states that when the accused public official or civil servant is in a position of authority over the woman, no proof would be required that the woman did not consent to the advances. In other circumstances, the law requires such proof.

The proposed amendment is sponsored by Meretz MK Michal Rosin, who previously headed the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, and comes against the backdrop of the sexual harassment case of Moti Malka, who at the time of the allegations against him was mayor of Kiryat Malakhi. A female resident of the city who said she had been seeking employment and had been promised by Malka that he would assist her, filed a complaint that led to the criminal charges against him. She alleged that the two then had sexual relations and that she did not resist because she was seeking his help in finding a job. Despite the authority Malka had over her, the indictment against him was dismissed as a result of her consent to the sexual contact.

The law already provides certain circumstances in which a defendant who has authority over the victim can be convicted of harassment even without proof of the victim’s unwillingness: cases involving relations between doctor and patient, an employee in a job setting, and relations between a university lecturer and a student. Rosin's bill would add circumstances in which the perpetrator is a public figure, elected official or civil servant who exploits his authority. The bill would apply even when the harassment is directed at someone who is not employed at the accused’s place of employment. Instead it would apply in any setting in which the public servant has authority over the plaintiff.

"The manager of a municipal tax department, for example, needs to know that he cannot exploit female residents who are dependent upon [his services]," Rosin said. "The case of Moti Malka demonstrated that the law needed to be amended so that sexual harassment on the part of a public servant is tantamount to sexual harassment in cases in which there is [supervisory] authority.

Daniel Bar-On