The owner of a public relations firm active in the ultra-Orthodox community has been arrested on suspicion of rape and other sexual offenses against his female employees.
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His firm recently went bankrupt, and since then the 30-year-old Jerusalem resident has been the administrator of a religious school for girls in grades one through eight.
His alleged crimes were committed over the course of about six years, and so far six women have filed complaints against him, police said. On Monday a court ordered him held without bail for five days.
The court imposed a gag order on the suspect’s name at his lawyer’s request. Police have asked the court to lift the gag order, arguing that publishing his name would encourage other victims to come forward, but so far the court has refused.
Police launched an undercover investigation of the man two weeks ago after receiving a complaint from the organization Lo Tishtok, which said he had sexually assaulted various women employed in his office over the years. As the investigation progressed, additional women filed complaints, and police are now trying to persuade others to do so as well.
The complainants accused their former boss of rape, sodomy and sexual assault. They also said he threatened, pressured and manipulated them into complying with some of his sexual demands.
The man’s firm, which he owned with several partners, employed many women, and police said he had a consistent modus operandi: First he would give his victim a great deal of personal attention and promote her. Then he would start humiliating and harassing her and touching her body. Eventually, he would send his male employees out of the office to leave him alone with the victim, at which point he would take her into a private room and rape and sodomize her.
He also threatened the women – most of whom were married and some of whom were even pregnant at the time – that if they rejected his advances, he would destroy their reputations by telling their families and their rabbis about his sexual encounters with them.
No longer taboo
In recent years, several serious cases of sexual assault in the ultra-Orthodox community have made headlines because discussion of this issue, which the community once hushed up almost completely, is no longer taboo. This is mainly thanks to the work of advocacy organizations like Lo Tishtok and ultra-Orthodox internet sites, which have raised awareness of the issue and publicized specific cases.
Racheli Roshgold, one of Lo Tishtok’s founders, said the organization began receiving complaints about the current suspect around a month ago. After concluding that they were credible, the organization approached Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, “who has been very active on the issue of sexual assault in the religious and ultra-Orthodox community. One of the victims told the rabbi what had happened, and with his encouragement and recommendation, we managed to get the victim to file a police complaint.”
Another victim consulted the rabbinical leader of the Hasidic sect to which she belongs, and he, too, “gave his blessing” for her to file a police complaint, Roshgold added.
This is a notable change from the not so distant past, when ultra-Orthodox rabbis discouraged sex crime victims from going to the police, preferring to handle such issues privately. But even though the community has made great strides in its willingness to cooperate with law enforcement agencies against sex crimes, no leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi has yet been willing to speak out publicly against sexual assault.
Roshgold said she expects other victims to file police complaints in the coming days.
The suspect’s lawyer, Ariel Atari, termed the case “a criminal attempt to extort a well-known and admired businessman by several former employees.”
“These employees banded together to extort money from him,” Atari continued. “We intend to do everything possible to reveal the truth, and after the truth is revealed, my client intends to file a libel suit against all the women who submitted false testimony against him.”