The number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Justice Ministry unit investigating police misconduct has dropped sharply, according to figures given by police Tuesday to the Knesset Committee on the Advancement of Women.
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However, the committee chairwoman echoed concerns that the reason for the dramatic decline is less because of an actual decline in sexual harassment on the force, and more because the police brass has intimidated female officers out of complaining about it.
Police announced the figures proudly, but the unit that investigates police misconduct and other officials at the Knesset meeting had trouble explaining the sharp decline.
Police said that in 2015, 59 complaints of sexual harassment by male colleagues at work were filed by female police officers, and in 2016, the figure was down to 21. .
In March 2016, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich announced that police would no longer accept anonymous complaints; according to Justice Ministry officials, Alsheich’s statement, along with the undermining by police of the woman who lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman, likely deterred other women from complaining.
Alsheich went as far as to call the woman who complained against Ritman a “criminal offender.” Following the attorney general’s decision not to indict Ritman, Alsheich informed him he could continue at his post as commander of the anti-corruption unit Lahav 433.
After Alsheich’s announcement in March 2016 regarding anonymous complaints, the Justice Ministry unit quickly called on officers who had experienced harassment to complain, even anonymously.
The chairwoman of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women, MK Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List), said regarding the statistics: “I’m very worried about the small number of complaints. I don’t think it’s logical that a body as large as this would have such a small number. It’s impossible not to criticize various statements by the commissioner about the complainant,” she said.
Sources in the Justice Ministry unit said the dismissal of a number of top police officers for sexual harassment did create deterrence, but that was not enough to explain the dramatic decline in the number of complaints in 2016.
However, Brig. Gen. Yael Edelman, the police commissioner’s adviser on women’s affairs, said police were conveying a clear, strong message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
The police said in a statement: “The unit investigating police misconduct initiated a meeting to analyze the data and at no point did the claim arise that they were the result of fear to file complaints. There is no change in the police policy on the subject of devoted and professional treatment of sexual harassment complaints.”