Teenage members of the Israel Scouts movement have recently reported a number of incidents of apparent sexual harassment, both during troop activities and in other settlings. In most of the cases reported to Haaretz, the girls who are the apparent victims – mainly of what they say are indecent acts – decide to leave the movement, while the boys alleged to be the perpetrators do not.
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The girls say they received no assistance from the leadership of the national youth movement as to how to deal with such acts, and feel they had no one to turn to or with whom to lodge a complaint.
For their part, Scouts officials says say that they are unable to investigate the charges or to take disciplinary measures against the perpetrators.
T., who belongs to a troop in Jerusalem, told Haaretz that she was sexually assaulted by another member of the troop at a non-scouting gathering.
“A few friends gathered at one of our homes, we were drinking a bit, not a lot. I fell asleep on a couch and I woke up to find him [the alleged attacker] hiding me from the others and putting his hand into my pants,” said T., who reported the incident to one of the senior troop leaders, who then spoke about it with her parents and questioned the boy.
“They [the senior counsellors] brought him in for a talking-to and he said he was sorry. But they told me that unless I went to the police, there was nothing more they could do. They couldn’t kick him out,” she added.
T. did go to the police two weeks after the incident, however, and a restraining order against the alleged attacker was issued.
“There was a field trip and I was promised he wouldn’t be there," she said, "but on the day of the outing, there he was. I asked the troop leader how that could be, and she said she had talked to the policewoman who said they just had to make sure he stayed away from me.”
T. objected to this arrangement, and her purported assailant eventually gave up on going on the trip. But after the period of the restraining order ended, he went back to activities as usual in the Scouts.
Eighteen months later, T.’s assailant was indicted for an indecent act.
“In a movement that is trying to work for social justice, I would think they would protect someone who needs help,” said T.
'Shock of his life'
In another incident, B., from a troop in central Israel, reported being assaulted at the end of 10th grade at a weekend Scouts seminar.
“I had gone to sleep next to a good [male] friend of mine. He took my hand and touched himself and then he touched me. In the morning I told the counsellor right away. The counsellor got the shock of his life,” B. told Haaretz.
She added that she decided not to go to the police but did tell the troop leaders at the seminar and her parents what had happened. One of the leaders told the alleged assailant to go meet with the movement’s social worker, but according to B., he never went.
The social worker decided to keep the boy away from scouting activities for two weeks, but B. said he ignored that demand. B. added that one of her counsellors discouraged her from going to the police, saying that since there were no witnesses, it would be her word against his.
B. added that the assailant eventually became an admired figure in the troop and was given various desirable positions.
“The excuse was 'we don’t know what happened,' and if I go to the police, they can act,” B. said.
The following year when B. and the teen who allegedly attacked her were in 11th grade, both of them became counsellors. She said she objected to that and threatened to leave, at which point leaders of the troop “said I should create an activity about sexual harassment to be shared with the rest of the members.”
At that point, B. left the Scouts. “Scouting is an inseparable part of me; it was hard to leave,” she said.
Still, B. added, no one tried to stop her, even though everyone knew why she had left. Meanwhile the boy in question continues to hold senior positions in the troop.
B. and T. eventually met each other through a mutual friend. When they realized what they had both experienced, they began to ask by means of WhatsApp whether any other girls had gone through what they had. They soon received messages from 12 girls, some of whom claimed that they had been assaulted during scouting activities, usually at overnights or other events; others said they had been victims of sexual assault at non-Scouts events.
T. and B. reported that most of the girls they were in touch with felt that the movement had not backed them up. In addition, both of them described similar feelings of being shunned as a result of what happened to them.
“The worst thing was that my best girlfriends were in contact with him,” B. told Haaretz.
N., a member of a troop in central Israel who said she was assaulted at a party outside the Scouts framework, explained that she never told her counsellors about the incident because she felt they would not have supported her.
“There was a lot of alcohol," said N. "The Scouts movement is against these sort of parties but they happen. I was 15 and it was the first time I had experienced alcohol. A boy persuaded me to go with him to an orchard and all I remember is that every time I woke up I was on the ground and he was on top of me. I fainted and when I got myself together, I asked him to stop. He shouted at me and left.”
N. told her friends what had happened and the story got around, after which her friends shunned her. She said she might have told her troop leaders about the incident if she had been asked about it. In any event, N. eventually left the Scouts.
Among the complaints reported to Haaretz was one from a boy who claimed to have been sexually harassed by a girl. “The story didn’t get to the police because the parents agreed on something between themselves,” a counsellor who handled the case told Haaretz.
The Israel Scouts movement has a protocol for dealing with sexual harassment complaints, which states: “First of all, provide legitimization for the victim's actions and feelings (it’s okay [for him/her] to take it hard, not to be able to function and to lose control in such a situation).”
According to the guidelines: “It’s important to listen to the victim's wishes and to suggest possible courses of action: calling the parents immediately, filing a police complaint, taking a shower, eating and seeking the advice of a professional.”
Furthermore, the assailant is to be questioned privately in a calm atmosphere, and the emphasis must be on the injurious nature of the act, not his or her personality per se: “What you did," the person doing the questioning is supposed to say, "was very serious and is unacceptable."
The procedure states that the assailant must be informed that those in charge have an obligation to report the attack to the welfare authorities or a police youth investigator. But, according to the victims who spoke with Haaretz, the guidelines relate in almost the same way to the assailant as to the victim.
“They always say, ‘We’re going by the rules. We have a social worker, we are educators and everything is alright,’” B. said. “But the Scouts well know how to mete out punishment for stealing or disciplinary problems. Only when it comes to sexual harassment they can’t do anything."
The Israel Scouts provided this statement to Haaretz, in response: “The safety of the female scout is a primary value of the Scouts movement, which has acted and continues to act by all means at its disposal to create a protected and safe environment, among other ways by holding activities and conversations with troop members and making referrals to a social worker when needed.
"We stress that the Israel Scouts is an educational movement and not a body that deals with investigations or enforcement, and we do not have the ability or the authority to find out where the truth lies when one scout complains about another. In regrettable cases like that, the movement acts according to Education Ministry regulations and directives of the security and enforcement agencies.”
The statement adds that because the persons involved in such incidents are minors, the police are prohibited from releasing information concerning their identities, and thus details "were not reported to officials in the movement at any time after an indictment was served against an individual scout.”
As to the cases presented in this article, movement officials wrote, “as soon as they became known they were dealt with according to Education Ministry procedures by troop counsellors and the Israel Scouts leadership. Moreover, all efforts were made by those in charge in the troop and the leadership to give the girls and the boy who complained a warm and supportive environment that accompanied them throughout while their charges were being addressed.”