Ninety-two Percent of Rape Investigations in Israel Are Closed Without Charges

Only around 20 percent of cases involving sex crimes last year led to indictments; Israel's rape crisis centers report surge in calls during pandemic

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Hundreds of Israelis protest in Tel Aviv, Israel following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old Israeli girl, August 23, 2020.
Hundreds of Israelis protest in Tel Aviv, Israel following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old Israeli girl, August 23, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Fully 92 percent of rape investigations in Israel in 2019 ended without charges being filed, according to a report issued Monday by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. 

The report coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25. The proportion of rape cases that were closed without an indictment has risen steadily since 2014, when it was 86.3 percent.

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The association also reported that since the beginning of the first coronavirus lockdown in Israel in March, calls to the organization’s emergency hotlines were 24 percent higher than the same period last year.

Calls to the hotlines rose 6 percent in 2019 from 2018 and 43 percent from 2014. But despite the increase in the number of complaints, the percentage of cases in which charges were filed actually declined over this period.

According to Justice Ministry figures, only 56 rape investigations last year – 7.6 percent of the total – led to indictments. That represents a steady decline in the past four years: The indictment rate was 8.7 percent in 2018, 11.1 percent in 2017, 10.9 percent in 2016, 10.6 percent in 2015 and 13.7 percent in 2014.

Prosecutors opened 4,021 sexual assault investigations and 694 sexual harassment investigations last year. Only about 20 percent of those cases resulted in indictments.

MK Oded Forer, chairman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, said that only 13.7 percent of the sexual assault victims who seek help at rape crisis centers or hospitals ultimately decide to file police complaints.

“This tiny proportion indicates the weakness of the system, which doesn’t inspire faith in its ability to protect the victims from another assault under the auspices of the law,” he said.

The Israel Prison Service has similarly reported a decline in the number of people serving sentences or jailed while awaiting trial for sexual offenses. Last year, there were only 938 such people, a decline of 18 percent compared to 2014, when there were 1,147.

The agency noted that 57 percent of prisoners serving sentences for sex offenses have served at least one sentence for similar crimes before.

As for the rise in hotline calls due to the coronavirus crisis, the report said the main increase occurred during the first wave of the virus, from April to June. During those months, there were 16,515 calls to rape crisis centers, up 37 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

Hundreds of Israelis protest in Tel Aviv, Israel following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old Israeli girl by a group of males last week, August 23, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

The increase was particularly sharp in June, at 43 percent. The association said this was because the end of the lockdown made it easier for victims to contact it.

The biggest increase during the first wave, of 103 percent, was recorded at the rape crisis center in the Negev. The number of calls to the association’s national WhatsApp hotline rose 95 percent during that period.

“The lockdown, which was meant to protect our safety, made dangerous homes more dangerous,” said Orit Sulitzeanu, the association’s executive director. “It constituted a trigger for resurfacing traumas among many women and men coping with trauma caused by sexual assault and led to the exposure of assaults on girls and boys in many homes.”

“Unfortunately, you have to take into account that what has been revealed to date is just the tip of the iceberg,” she added. “In our experience, the main impact of crisis situations is hard to detect in real time. We’ll continue to see the ramifications of the current crisis for months and even years to come.”

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