1 in 6 Women Suffer Sexual Harassment in Israeli Army, Survey Finds

Some 60% of female soldiers say there is a sexualized atmosphere in units, while 35% said they were touched or subjected to sexual gestures or leers

Women soldiers attending a ceremony, May 2017.
David Bachar

One in six women soldiers say they have been sexually harassed during their military service, an internal Israel Defense Forces survey has found.

And while 15.6 percent of respondents reported facing such behavior, the true incidence of harmful sexual behavior, based on indirect reporting, is in fact much higher.

According to the findings, which were obtained by Haaretz and relate to 2016, 60 percent of the female soldiers and officers who answered the questionnaire said there was a sexualized atmosphere in their units. They described soldiers or commanders frequently telling sexual jokes and stories, making hurtful sexual comments about them or sharing pornographic images. In 2014, that figure was 65 percent.

A similar proportion of respondents, 57 percent, reported receiving hurtful sexual comments; 35 percent said they were touched or subjected to sexual gestures, leers or winks; 12 percent said a fellow soldier or officer had exposed himself in a way that embarrassed the respondent; and 5 percent reported being offered some reward in return for sex. In addition, 3 percent said they had been threatened or otherwise treated inappropriately for refusing sex, while 1 percent reported being the victim of a sexual assault or attempted assault.

The Israel Defense Forces is aware of the gap between the number of women in service who said they experienced sexual harassment when asked directly, and the larger number of respondents who reported having experienced hurtful behavior of a sexual nature.

The army’s report on the survey noted this gap, which in the past has been ascribed to ignorance about the legal definition of sexual harassment and a reluctance by the victims to characterize a specific incident as sexual harassment.

The survey was carried out by the office of the gender affairs adviser to the chief of staff, which sent anonymous questionnaires to a representative sample of thousands of female soldiers and officers up to the rank of first lieutenant. The survey has been carried out for 15 years.

In a statement, the army spokesman’s office said the survey is conducted every two years, that the survey under discussion refers to 2016 and that the findings of the most recent poll show an increase in awareness among female soldiers and officers of sexual harassment, without pointing to a rise in the number reporting that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.

Yet the responses to one part of the questionnaire reflect a decline in women’s confidence that the army will treat their complaints seriously and that perpetrators will be punished with the requisite severity.

As reported previously by Haaretz, while the number of complaints of sexual harassment or assault to the army’s support center for victims of sex crimes has risen, the number of official complaints filed with the Military Police has dropped.

In 2016, only 19 percent of service members who complained of sexual harassment registered formal complaints. In the past year, 28 indictments for sexual offenses were issued to soldiers or officers, compared to 22 in the previous year.