Dozens of women demonstrated on Friday in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to show solidarity with two 15-year-old girls who were allegedly sexually exploited by professional soccer players from the Maccabi Tel Aviv team.
“We are not bait,” protesters chanted.
“I don’t care about the soccer players, I care about the young girls,” one protester said. “We’re here to be counted so they understand they’re not alone.”
The police launched an investigation last week against two players suspected of statutory rape, or having sex with a minor with their consent. The maximum penalty for such a crime is five years in prison. Both girls have testified to the police and the athletes have been questioned.
Some of the protesters had the words “you aren’t guilty” and “I believe you” written on their bodies. Some shared their own experiences of sexual harassment with Haaretz.
“They always shout at us, ‘hey, sexy!’ or they honk, even if I’m wearing long pants,” said Adi, a 15-year-old girl. She related how a car once stopped next to her and the men inside asked her to join them. “That’s not a compliment, it’s not the same as telling someone they’re pretty,” she said, adding that she thinks that yelling “hey sexy” to someone is offensive. “Women are afraid to complain. But victims of sexual assault shouldn’t feel they’re alone. The first question you’re always asked is, ‘what were you wearing?’”
Adi and two friends aged 15 and 17 said they’ve been harassed since they were 13 or 14 years old.
- Soccer stars from Tel Aviv club questioned over claims of sex with minor girls
- These Jaffa women are reclaiming space for Palestinian culture
- Israelis protest femicide after uptick in violence against women during coronavirus lockdown
Maya, 15, said, “We do all we can to succeed and when girls of 15 are treated this way, they’re in shock. It makes us feel like that because they don’t see me as a young girl.”
The girls talked about arguments they’ve been having on this topic on social media with both adults and close friends at school. “People believe that if someone is wearing shorts, then you’re entitled to touch them, “Adi said. “But it makes no difference whether I’m in shorts or long pants, it’s not right. We always get asked, ‘why are you dressed that way.’”
Speaking through megaphones, protesters said that men had to take responsibility for their actions. “If you just speak to her for a couple of minutes, you’ll be able to tell whether the girl is 15 or 18,” one said.
“The problem with sexual violence is always the responsibility of the offender,” said Bracha Barad, director general of the Kulan movement, which organized the protest. “The girls deserve a different way of thinking and to know the country values them and doesn’t just blame them.”
Barad said the girls in the alleged sexual assault case have received threats and suffered abuse on social media since their complaints were made public. “Unfortunately, threats are sent to 15-year-old girls. They’re called whores and it’s all being done to ensure that men are not held accountable for their actions.”