Israeli Bedouin Woman's Tragic Case Raises Issue of False Allegations of Sex Crimes

Criminal law expert says however many false claims are made, the number of unreported sex crimes is much higher

FILE PHOTO: Israel's High Court of Justice.
Gil Yohanan

For eight years A.A., a 27-year-old Bedouin woman, was on trial for filing a false complaint against a man. It happened shortly after she decided to rebel against Bedouin ways and fled from her village at the age of 19. After she was left without a roof over her head, she went to live with a Jewish man 40 years her senior, in a Tel Aviv apartment he shared with others. He provided her with shelter and clothing and she agreed to sleep with him. When she couldn’t find her cell phone and suspected he was trying to cut her off from the world, she went to the police and complained that he had imprisoned and raped her.

The police investigation was very efficient. In less than 24 hours after the filing of the complaint, there was a confrontation arranged between them at the police station, but she broke down and retracted her complaint. The circumstances of her life, the fact that she had fled from her family and was a rape victim at the age of 18, didn’t exempt her from a criminal proceeding and in 2010 she was tried for giving false testimony. Last Friday Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Dana Amir acknowledged her difficult conditions and decided, despite her confession, not to convict her, and to sentence her to 120 hours of community service.

The judge took it into account that a criminal conviction could be a real obstacle for her future. The accused, who grew up in a closed society with rigid rules that differ from those usually practiced in the country, has to try to become integrated into Israeli society and needs every possible support and leniency, said the judge. She wrote that “the public interest can tolerate the non-conviction of the accused, so that she can continue her rehabilitation.”

A.A.’s story once again raises the issue of false allegations, an explosive subject. In studies that defined false allegations as allegations in which the evidence proves with a high degree of certainty that they are lies, it was found that between 2 and 10 percent of allegations meet this description.

Prof. Oren Gazal Ayal, dean of the law faculty at the University of Haifa and an expert on criminal law, says, “It’s important to clarify that whatever the percentage of false allegations, there are far more cases of unreported sex crimes than false allegations about crimes that were not committed.”

In a case in the Magistrate’s Court in the Krayot regarding a woman who complained that her lover had imprisoned and raped her, the prosecution’s figures showed that between 2011 and 2013 there were 37 indictments for false allegations about a sex crime or domestic violence.

When she was 16, A.A. had a romantic relationship with the driver who drove her and other pupils to school. When her family discovered the affair, they kidnapped her and transferred her to the protection of a local sheikh, who imprisoned her in a cave for two weeks, during which she says she was attacked, raped and subject to other sexual assaults. When they released her, she sent back to the village and forced to marry her cousin, while her family continued to ostracize her. The man with whom she’d had a relationship was murdered. When police questioned her about the murder, she told them that her family had kidnapped her and caused her imprisonment.

A.A.'s rapists and tormenters convicted

After the information came out about her kidnapping, the Be’er Sheva District Court convicted her uncle and others for kidnapping, imprisonment and rape. According to the indictment they searched for her after she fled from the tribe, ambushed and kidnapped her and called her a “prostitute.” When she tried to flee from the house where she was held for five days, one of them chained her in a cave under his house and locked the door, and she remained there for two weeks.

When she was released she said she would marry her cousin, and did so a few hours later. During the trial against her persecutors it was discovered that A.A. had filed the false complaint against G., the Israeli, and her reliability was questioned. The district court decided that her testimony was reliable and convicted the five defendants, but on appeal the Supreme Court exonerated those accused due to contradictions in her story and the indictment against her.

After the kidnapping she had left the south and moved to Tel Aviv. In fear for her life, she had changed phone numbers every two months, changed addresses and wandered from place to place, sleeping wherever she could. She had accepted G.’s offer of help and gone to live with him. When he had begun to criticize her independence, she claimed he had raped her.

A.A. confessed to her crime and expressed regret. The opinion submitted to the court prior to her sentencing noted “she suffers from a sense of loneliness, shame, humiliation, pain and anger that have yet to abate, and the traumatic events she experienced are still tangible and undiminished and require treatment.” Those in charge of her case recommended placing her in an employment rehabilitation program and treatment center for victims of sexual assault.

The Supreme Court judges asked whether her conviction could be overturned despite her confession. The prosecution insisted that the conviction should be affirmed because of the damage caused by her false allegations, which could cause innocent people to be arrested or harmed, and could undermine public trust of women who say they are victims of sex crimes.

Her defense attorneys claimed that G. has not suffered much damage, explaining that A.A. didn’t go to the police with the intention of causing G. harm, but because of her confusion and dire situation. They noted that the crime was committed when the defendant was a teenager.

Men’s organizations that have been fighting to raise awareness of false allegations have had some success in recent years. In the past, authorities tended to turn a blind eye to the possibility of false allegations, but a 2016 order by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan determined that if there is such a possibility, a police investigation is mandated.