The Military Police only opened an investigation into complaints by two Givati Brigade soldiers that their commander had sexually molested them on Tuesday, even though the incident occurred months ago. The investigation was launched after the complaint was publicized by Israel Radio on Monday.
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The two combat soldiers complained that they had suffered sexual harassment and molestation by their immediate superior that included touching of their genitals. The soldiers said they reported what happened to the brigade’s entire command hierarchy – the company commander, the battalion commander and eventually the brigade commander. But apparently the brigade decided to keep the matter quiet, and the Military Police were not called in to investigate until yesterday.
As part of the Israel Radio report, a military official said the soldiers had said the commander had only harassed them verbally, without reporting physical contact. But the soldiers claim otherwise, adding that brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter had promised them that he “had resolved their problem,” and that the officer would not remain in the Israel Defense Forces as the result of their complaint.
In an interview broadcast Monday evening on Channel 1, one of the soldiers recalled his shock when the offending officer committed the act. “I simply froze, I didn’t know how to respond,” he said. “This is someone who I tremendously admired. He was a figure I regarded as a god. When it happens you don’t react. You simply freeze. You go into shock. It was only after three months that I realized how significant it was.
“The brigade commander told us, ‘I’ve resolved your problem. That officer is no longer in the IDF.’ But after a week I was walking on the base and I saw him right in front of me,” the soldier said.
Under the military order titled “Prohibition of sexual harassment,” any reported incident of sexual harassment must be handled in consultation with a military prosecutor. The Military Prosecution said it had no knowledge of the incident before it was revealed in the media.
When there is a report to commanders of sexual harassment or assault, they must make the complainant aware of all his or her options – a Military Police investigation, handling the complaint within the unit under the guidelines of a military prosecutor, or making a report without filing a complaint. From what the soldiers have said, it appears the behavior of the unit commanders contravenes army orders.