Nine in Ten Sexual Harassment Cases in Israel Don't Result in Indictment

More than half of all cases closed, mainly due to lack of evidence, but many for 'lack of public interest.'

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Prosecutors close 62 percent of all sexual harassment cases, usually due to lack of evidence, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Of the 216 sexual harassment cases the prosecution handled in 2012, only 25 resulted in indictments, while 135 were closed – 83 of them for lack of evidence, 28 for lack of public interest, 11 because no crime had been committed, and the rest for other reasons such as inability to locate the suspect.

The data was requested by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, which will submit its own report on sexual assaults to the Knesset on Wednesday, at a joint meeting of Committee on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Association director Orit Sulitzeanu said her sense is that “cases involving sexual harassment at work are often closed because there are alternatives, like disciplinary proceedings or filing suit in a labor court.” She also charged that law enforcement agencies still view sexual harassment as a trivial offense.

“When a woman comes to the police and dares break the barrier and complain about sexual harassment, granted, this isn’t a rape in the bushes, but whoever handles her complaint must understand that this phenomenon has a very big price – personal, economic and social – and must be treated very seriously,” she said. “We haven’t succeeded in transmitting this message to the law enforcement system. Attitudes on this matter still haven’t changed. The women are blamed incessantly.”

The data released by the state under the Freedom of Information data also show that police opened 5,085 sex crime cases in 2012, including 515 for sexual harassment. This is an increase from the previous year’s figures, which were 4,563 and 369, respectively. But of the sexual harassment cases police investigated last year, fewer than 30 percent – just 146 cases – were given to the prosecution to press indictments.

The association’s data indicate that many sex crime cases never reach the police: Of the 7,700 new complaints its hotline received last year, only 17 percent were also reported to the police.

Almost a third of the victims in these 7,700 complaints were children under 13. Another 32 percent were aged 13 to 18, while 36 percent were adults. Fully 88 percent of the adult victims were female, as were 80 percent of the victims under 13.

Of the adult women, 25.8 percent complained of sexual harassment, and 30.2 percent reported suffering sexual harassment or assault either at work or during army service.

In a survey conducted by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry two years ago, 11 percent of working women said they were harassed on the job. This translates into 165,000 women being harassed each year.

Sulitzeanu said the reason only few of these cases reach the police is that the harasser is often the victim’s superior, so the victim fears being fired or demoted if she complains.

“Consequently, most keep quiet, don’t complain, and are forced to go every day to a hurtful, humiliating and exploitative workplace,” she said, adding that the way the media cover sexual harassment cases also contributes to women’s reluctance to complain. “We haven’t succeeded in inculcating norms of how to behave toward women. It’s hard to prove such incidents in a criminal proceeding that demands proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore very few women complain.”

Of the 7,700 complaints received by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers last year, 38 percent were for rape, attempted rape or sodomy, 28 percent for incest, 17 percent for sexual harassment and 12 percent for sexual assault. Among children under 13, however, the vast majority of complaints were for incest – 68 percent – while only 18 percent were for rape, attempted rape or sodomy.

Most assaults on children under 13 – 61 percent – are reported more than 10 years after they occurred, the association’s data shows. But among victims aged 13 to 18, 58 percent of assaults are reported within a year.

The data also shows that 70 percent of assaults on children under 13 are reported by a parent or other relative. This figure drops to 30 percent among victims age 13 to 18, while 40 percent of victims in this age group report the assault themselves.

Altogether, the prosecution opened 3,126 sex crimes cases last year and closed 2,070, while filing 986 indictments. Of the cases that were closed, 60 percent were closed for lack of evidence.

A student demonstration at Tel Aviv University against handling of sexual harassment complaints.Credit: Alon Ron

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