Ever since Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s statement about two weeks ago that anonymous complaints of sexual harassment in the police force would no longer be investigated, no such complaints have been filed, Uri Carmel, head of the Justice Ministry unit that investigates the police, said on Tuesday.
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“I don’t know what it means that we have no complaints at the moment, but it’s not because the phenomenon has disappeared. It should be checked whether this is ‘artificial quiet,’” Carmel said, alluding to the fact that Alsheich’s statement is deterring women police personnel from filing complaints.
A female officer finds it impossible to deal with the outcome of a complaint against someone higher up in the hierarchy and so anonymous complaints are the only way to find out about such cases, Carmel added.
During discussion of sexual harassment in the police at a meeting in the Knesset to mark International Women’s Day and gender equality, and in response to criticism of his earlier statements about refusing to investigate anonymous complaints within the force, Alsheich said that any anonymous complaint that appeared to be criminal would be passed on to the Justice Ministry unit for investigation. However, Alsheich stood behind his original statement and said, “We should get a medal for our decision.”
He explained that anonymous complaints are unnecessary because police personnel are required to report cases of sexual harassment. “A policeman who sees sexual harassment and doesn’t report it will be punished,” he said.
Alsheich said another reason not to investigate such complaints is that anonymous letters were the basis for false complaints, which he wants to combat. “I have learned that there is a custom of settling accounts in the police,” he said. “This involves periods ahead of promotion and it’s a sick phenomenon.”
Alsheich said that when a policewoman makes an allegation of sexual harassment internally, the police support her, but “there could be a situation where an indictment is filed and he [the object of the complaint] remains in his position. I can’t throw everyone under the bus; there’s a human being here who is presumably innocent,” he said.
Alsheich said, “What is criminal goes to the Justice Ministry unit [for investigation]. There is a clear distinction.”
Alsheich brought up the case of Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman, who was suspected of sexual harassment and who was returned to his position of commander of the Lahav 433 fraud investigation unit. “In that case I accepted the determination that the case did not reach a criminal threshold and there was a serious problem of evidence. Plus, many years had passed. I made a decision and I stand by it,” he said, adding, “I remind everyone that the investigation against Roni Ritman began because of an internal investigation [against the policewoman who lodged the complaint].”
MK Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint Arab List), chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Woman and Gender Equality, said at Tuesday’s meeting: “The commissioner’s statements have major influence. It’s not for nothing we hear of a decline in the number of complaints over the past month. The police must deal with every complaint of sexual harassment, the way it handles complaints of any other crime. It is worrisome that precisely the organization’s head, whose job it is to investigate and to protect the complainants, made such statements.