Protesters Across Israel Decry Sexual Violence After Suspected Gang Rape of 16-year-old

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Protesters demonstrate against sexual violence at Habima Square, Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020
Protesters demonstrate against sexual violence at Habima Square, Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020Credit: Ofer Vaknin

More than a thousand protesters gathered on Thursday evening at Tel Aviv's Habima Square and hundreds more in around 30 other locations across Israel following the suspected gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in the southern resort city of Eilat.

Credit: Bar Peleg

Organizers said the case in Eilat was not an isolated one, and was a direct continuation of what they saw as a weak public response to the case last summer when Israeli teenage boys were initially accused of raping a British woman in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, as well as two soccer players recently accused of raping two 15-year-old girls.

Credit: Lee Yaron

Two 27-year-old suspects have been arrested and remain in custody, and the police said more arrests would take place in relation the the case. According to an individual involved in the investigation, security cameras in the hotel where the incident took place showed people outside the room where the girl was staying and some people going inside. The police are analyzing the footage to identify other men who are allegedly involved. Security at the victim's home has been upgraded, although police say there's no specific information suggesting she is under threat.

Some of the protesters held signs that read 'I Believe You" and "You Are Not Alone." 

Protesters hold a sign that says 'you are not alone' at a protest against sexual violence, Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Meirav Ben Nun, who joined hundreds of protesters in Haifa, told Haaretz: "Although we planned to go to a demonstration ... against corruption and undermining democracy, we decided to come to a demonstration organized by women's organizations to shout against the rape culture that encourages and encourages atrocities like the one in Eilat. A joint demonstration for Jewish and Arab women, women and men who demand a fundamental change and budgets that will address the fight against violence against women. "

The organizers of the protest criticized the government’s conduct in dealing with sexual violence and said that programs to prevent sexual violence were underfunded. They also called for programs to teach children from a young age about healthy sexuality and “A government policy that prioritizes funding for social needs and education to prevent violence and domestic violence.”

They argued that this should include a social worker in every city to attend to sexual violence cases, “A policy where rapists are tried and receive the punishment they deserve, and a policy where women are not afraid to complain and attention will be paid to them by all agencies.”

One of the protests organizers, Stav Arnon, said: "Women are excluded from decision-making ... and they are repressed. This reality that women's lives are less equal is not a decree from heaven."

The demonstrations were organized by the Women’s March movement and other social action groups.

Protesters demonstrate against sexual violence, Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020Credit: Ofer Vaknin

A coalition of 16 organizations from the gay community also took part in the protest, including the The Aguda Association for LGBTQ Equality, Israel Gay Youth, the Jerusalem Open House and the transgender organization Ma’avarim. The organizations said that the case in Eilat was “The result of a culture that allows and encourages harming women and those who do not fit into gender molds. The culture of rape hurts us all – women, men, girls and boys, and our strength as a society.”

Stark Statistics

Each year, hundreds of girls under 18 report that they have been gang raped, but few of these cases are investigated by the police. According to new figures obtained by Haaretz, out of 1,250 reports of gang rape and sexual assault made to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel over the past five years, only 84 police files were opened – about 7 percent of all cases.

In the five years in which statistics exist (2014-2018), the association has received between 200 and 300 reports of gang rape and sexual assault every year. In 2018, in 60 percent of the cases the victim was a girl between the ages of 13 and 18. This is a significant increase from the previous years, when 40 percent of victims were minors. According to police statistics for 2018, girls between 12 and 18 constituted 63 percent of gang rape victims.

Protest demonstrate against sexual violence at Habima Square, Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

However, official police figures provided in response to a request through the Freedom of Information Law show that 11 cases were opened in 2017, with a similar number being opened every year over the previous decade. All told, 84 police files were opened for suspected gang rape between 2014 and 2018. The rape crisis centers association said a major problem was victims’ lack of faith in law enforcement, with only 10 to 15 percent of victims filing a police complaint.

A law passed in 2008 required the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry to open eight centers for assistance to victims of rape or sexual violence who are minors. Only seven were opened, the southernmost of which is in Be’er Sheva. The number of minors that Social Services Ministry figures say are treated at these centers shows the need for an additional center in the south. 27 percent of all victims under the age of 18 come to the centers in Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva. People with knowledge of the issue say that many minors are questioned at police stations because there is no special center near their home.

Social Services Ministry figures also state that over the past year, it handled 4,683 cases of sexual violence. In 60 percent of cases recorded by the ministry,  the victims were girls, while 65 percent of cases involved girls under the age of 14.

Yael Sherer, the founder of Beactive, a group fighting sexual violence, said the case of the suspected gang rape of a 16-year-old girl “Highlights the ongoing failure of the state in dealing with sexual violence in Eilat. It is inconceivable for the people who live in the south to be abandoned by the state.” Sherer called for the establishment of a special facility for treatment of minor victims of sexual assault in Eilat and elsewhere. According to the 2008 law, such a facility must provide a social worker, a special youth investigator, a doctor and a lawyer under one roof.

Noa Shpigel contributed to this report.

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