Panel to Propose Changes in Israeli Justice System’s Treatment of Sex Crime Victims

Committee set up by Chief Justice Esther Hayut considering establishment of special departments in courts to handle sex crime cases

An image of the Supreme Court of Israel, June 13, 2017
Noam Moskowitz

High Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut has set up a committee to examine the justice system’s treatment of sex crime victims. 

The committee, chaired by former Tel Aviv District Court President Dvora Berliner, was established in March and is due to submit its conclusions by the end of the year. The conclusions are expected to lead to changes in legislation.

One proposal under consideration is setting up special departments in the courts to handle sex crime cases.

Hayut didn’t publicize the committee’s establishment back in March, but said in a subsequent open letter that its purpose was “to examine the treatment of victims of sex crimes throughout the law enforcement chain,” with an emphasis on the solutions victims are offered and the way the system treats them.

The committee was set up in response to a bill by three female lawmakers to establish special sex crimes units in each court, just as there are specialized family courts and labor courts. The Knesset’s research center found that several other countries have set up specialized sex crime courts over the last decade, including South Africa, India and the U.S. state of New York.

In a position paper submitted to the committee last week, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel urged that all judges undergo special training in sex crimes. Today, such training is given only to judges specializing in criminal cases, even though civil suits are also often filed in sex crime cases.

The association also proposed that the law be changed to allow sex crime victims to address the court before sentencing decisions are made. Today, victims can’t address the court in person; they can only submit a social worker’s evaluation of the trauma suffered.

In addition, it listed several other issues that it wants the panel to address, including the police’s failure to notify victims before their assailant is released and the fact that victims are often forced to reenact their assault to the police and in court, which revives their trauma.

Aside from Berliner, the committee’s members include Magistrate’s Court Judge Menahem Mizrahi and representatives of the Courts Administration, the state prosecution and the Public Defender’s Office.