20% Increase in Reported Sexual Assaults in Israeli Army in 2016

22% of complaints were filed against career officers and noncommissioned officers, with about a quarter of these against relatively high-ranking officers.

Former Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris during his sentencing in Tel Aviv, January 17, 2017.
Moti Milrod

There was a 20 percent rise in the number of sexual assault complaints filed by Israel Defense Forces soldiers last year, according to data from a support center for troops who have been the victims of sex crimes.

The IDF said the dramatic rise was due to increased awareness among soldiers about the possibility of filing complaints on the matter. However, a former senior officer recently spoke out about the problem, calling it a worrisome trend.

The data from the IDF’s support center for victims of sex crimes said there were 802 reported incidents of sexual assault in military circumstances last year (i.e., on army bases or among military personnel), compared to 686 in 2015 – a 17 percent increase.

There was also an increase in reported sexual assaults in civilian circumstances (for example, sexual assault within the family, during army leave or prior to military service): 527 last year compared to 415 the previous year, a 24 percent rise.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Hagai Topolansky, who recently retired from military service after heading the IDF manpower directorate, warned about the issue in a letter he sent to administrative officers. Despite the seeming upward trend, he noted there had been a decline in the number of women complaining to Metzah – the Military Police investigation unit – about sexual assault in the military ranks.

An analysis of the data indicates that about half of the alleged sexual assaults in military circumstances last year were against draft soldiers doing their military service; 22 percent of complaints were filed against career officers and noncommissioned officers. About a quarter of these complaints were against relatively high-ranking officers – majors and above – while another quarter were officers serving up to the rank of captain. The rest of the complaints were against NCOs.

Haaretz asked for the percentage of complaints filed against commanders by their subordinates, but the IDF spokesperson’s unit claimed that gathering the information would require an individual examination of each file, which would involve an unreasonable allocation of resources.

According to army figures, only about 10 percent of sex crime allegations eventually reach the point of an investigation or legal action.

Despite the increase in the number of reported sexual assaults by soldiers in both military and civilian circumstances, the number of Metzah sexual assault investigations actually remains constant. In the past seven years, the number has been between 125 and 144 investigations. About 50 percent of the investigations opened each year relate to physical harassment.

According to Metzah figures, 125 sex crime investigations were opened in 2015, with 12 of them on suspicion of rape – a significant increase compared to the previous six years, when there was an average of 5.5 files opened in such cases.

“There is a strategy for preventing sexual harassment in the IDF. Commanders know they have to maintain a respectful climate – and yet we are still seeing such incidents in the army,” a senior female officer told Haaretz.

“The sex-crimes support center offers a variety of tools for dealing with the issue. There are soldiers who are talking for the first time and finding a place to address complaints about childhood attacks,” she continued. “And yes, there are also incidents within the army units, despite the enforcement and information.”

As reported by Haaretz last year, the IDF has established a support group that’s designed to offer legal aid to male and female soldiers who are alleged victims of sexual assault.

Lawyers who formerly served in the Military Advocate General’s office are defined as legal mentors for victims of sex crimes in the army.

The group’s first task was to assist the complainants in the case against Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris, who earlier this month was convicted of prohibited sexual relations with a female soldier who served under his command, and with conduct unbecoming toward another female officer.

The IDF spokesperson said in response: “The IDF views sexual assault allegations very seriously and strives to eradicate the phenomenon from its ranks. The IDF is working to implement rules of what is permitted and prohibited among officers and soldiers; to raise awareness of the options available to victims; and to encourage the reporting of all incidents of sexual abuse.”

It also cited its establishment of its sex-crimes support center in 2012 as a reason for the increase in reported assaults, adding that its social workers offer “close assistance and support” to male and female victims of sexual assault.