Bill Criminalizing Sexual Relations Between Clerics and Clients Passes Knesset

Amendment to Penal Code imposes maximum three-year sentence on offenders, even if relationship is ostensibly consensual.

Moti Milrod

A religious authority who has sex with an adherent who comes to him for guidance or counseling, even if it’s ostensibly consensual, will now be guilty of a crime, after a bill to this effect passed its final reading in the Knesset Wednesday by a unanimous vote.

The violation applies to any cleric or person who presents himself as such, as well as a person known for or who presents himself has having special spiritual powers, who has intercourse or commits sodomy with a client while providing “counseling or guidance on an ongoing basis during face-to-face meetings.” The bill, an amendment to the Penal Code submitted by MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), imposes a sentence of three years’ imprisonment.

During the debate on the bill in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the Justice Ministry representative said, “Even though the bill is paternalistic on the part of the legislature, it’s needed because the amendment refers to consensual acts, with consent resulting from a special relationship that at times is manipulated by a therapist who pretends to be concerned for the client, and in the web that he spins makes her agree to these acts.”

The bill was drawn up because the prosecution was having difficulty in finding a clause that would apply to cases where a person presenting himself as a spiritual authority exploits his influence over a believer to forge a sexual relationship.

For example, in the Goel Ratzon case, the prosecution tried to persuade the court that the relationship he had with 12 adult women, that included sexual relations, was based on the emotional control he had over them that dispossessed them of their free will and turned them into slaves. The court convicted Ratzon of some of the sex crimes, but acquitted him of the slavery charges, refusing to accept the prosecution’s broad interpretation of the law.

In other, similar cases, prosecutors have used clauses relating to sex between a therapist and a patient, or rape by deception.