How to Deal With Rape: Israeli Filmmaker Helps Fellow Abuse Victims With Online 'Toolkit'

Director and actress Noa Maiman was repeatedly abused as a youth. Now, her online series – 'Toolkit for Rape Recovery' - offers advice to those who have suffered through similar experiences.

A screenshot of Israeli documentary filmmaker in one of the episodes of 'Toolkit for Rape Recovery,' the online series she created to help fellow abuse victims.
youtube

Casually dressed, with no obvious makeup or styling, Noa Maiman looks straight into the camera.  Her eyes sad, her tone soft but forceful, she says:

"Be nice to yourself. We let those motherfuckers hurt us enough.  We cannot continue doing it to ourselves."

Documentary filmmaker, actress and scriptwriter, Noa Maiman, 35, created a series of videos, titled "Toolkit for Rape Recovery." She has posted the series, in English and Hebrew versions, on YouTube to tell her story about sexual abuse and rape and to encourage others who have suffered as she did.

"I was silent for a very long time," Maiman tells Haaretz in a telephone interview. "I made these videos so others won't be silent, so they can realize that they have done nothing wrong, to recognize that their reactions are normal, and to provide them with practical tools to take care of themselves."

Youtube

The tenth video, dealing with filing complaints with the police, was released Wednesday.  The English version of that chapter will be released soon, Maiman says.

When completed, the series will include 12 separate videos with titles like "Do Tell," "About Self Punishment," and "Standing us."  

Each episode deals with a specific issue, including how to get immediate help, whom to talk to and how to form relationships.

"As a documentary filmmaker," she says, "I chose to use a movie-like format.  And I chose YouTube because the videos I make will stay on the internet and will be accessible so that a person can watch whenever he or she wants to. And I made them in both Hebrew and English because I wanted them to be available to a larger audience and because sexual abuse crosses all boundaries."

Maiman, who is the daughter of Israeli billionaire Yossi Maiman, said she did not tell about the first time she was abused – by a trusted worker in her home – until long after it occurred.  Then, at age 15, she was abused by a family friend.  When she was 20, she was drugged and date-raped.

In the first video, Maiman presents statistics that reveal just how common sexual violence is.  In Israel, according to data provided by the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality, in 2014, nearly 9,000 people contacted rape crisis centers. Eighty-four percent of them were women and the vast majority reported a rape or attempted rape.  Some 60 percent of these individuals revealed that they were minors at the time of the attack.  In two thirds of the cases, the attacker was someone whom the victim knew; in 25 percent, the attacker was a parent, relative, or family friend.

Like many victims of sexual violence, Maiman was silent for a long time about the events. 

A screenshot from 'Toolkit for Rape Recovery,' the online series created by Israeli documentary filmmaker Noa Maiman to help fellow abuse victims.
youtube

"I never told anyone because I blamed myself," she continues. "Both men and women are sexually abused and raped, but I think that women, in particular, blame themselves. We say it is our fault that we were raped because we are pretty and so we were being seductive, or because we were drunk, or because we wore a short skirt – we women have a long list with which to blame ourselves.

"Or maybe," she muses, "we blame ourselves in an attempt to bring some logic into something that has no reason, a way to explain why something so awful was done to us – instead of believing that the world sucks, we can believe that we deserved it."

She realizes now that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for many years. "I would freeze up, I had many fears – these are classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  But I didn't realize it until much later."

She realized what her symptoms were when a woman, whom she refers to only as her "rape angel," saw her documentary Oy Mama, which Maiman had made about her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. "She pointed out that people who have suffered different kinds of traumas – in the Holocaust, soldiers at war, people who are victims of sexual abuse – share a similar set of symptoms," Maiman recalled.

The process of creating the videos, she relates, "has been a nightmare for me. Someone told me it's like a pregnancy – well then; it's been like an elephant's pregnancy, lasting very, very long."

She says she is motivated by the responses she receives. “Every time I speak publicly, someone comes up to me and tells me she has had the same experiences, that it happened to her, too.  And I have seen women, beautiful, strong women who have been abused or raped, and then they take back their lives and be the women they were meant to be. This keeps me going.”  

And, as she watches herself, she says she can also observe her own progress through the videos. The first few were shot while she was in Los Angeles. "I needed the distance.  I needed to isolate myself. I don't think that I could have possibly done this in Israel."

As part of the process, she also changed the name of the series. Through the first five episodes, she calls the series, "Toolkit for the Fresh Rape Victim." But in the sixth episode, she begins to refer to the series as "Toolkit for Rape Recovery."

 "I used 'Fresh' as a take-off on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.' But by the sixth episode, I was talking about building oneself, about love and family and healing. I didn't need the cynicism anymore, I didn't need to try to deny my feelings by making things lighter. I had freed myself from my sense of victimhood.

"By this latest episode, the tenth, which tells the story of the complaints that I filed with the police, I felt I could see the light at the end of the tunnel," she says.

Maiman filed two complaints – against the man who attacked her when she was 15 and the one who date-raped her when she was 20.  The first complaint was rejected because the statute of limitations had run out on the crime; the second because it was not possible to prove the identity of her alleged attacker.

"It's frustrating that these complaints were unsuccessful," she acknowledges. "But I'm not sorry I did it. If other women complain – and I am sure that these men have attacked other women – then their names will be on record, and my complaint will have helped."

In the video, she chose not to name the alleged attackers. It was, she says, a very difficult choice, and one that she is still not at peace with.

"I am afraid that if I name them, it could have legal ramifications, and I could be sued. I would have to deal with all those legalities – and that's not where I want to put my energies," she says. 

"But it doesn't feel good. It feels as though I am defending these men, or that I am still having to defend myself. I feel that by not naming them, I am allowing them to possibly hurt other women."

The decision, she says, "is not final. I can change my mind at some point in the future."

She says that she is "encouraged" by the recent set of highly publicized cases of alleged sexual abuse and rape in Israel.

"This public attention isn't because the number of attacks has increased. It's because of the wonderful, strong, beautiful women who have come forward, revealing their identity and names. By telling my story, I see myself as a part of that process.

"And that is why I am optimistic," she concludes. "Because I believe that maybe we can create a new generation of men and women and create a different reality, without sexual violence and shame. And that would be the real victory."