Rate of Sex Crime Cases Being Opened Rises 22 Percent in Last Decade

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Protesters demonstrate outside the courthouse during the sentencing hearing of convicted rapist Alon Kastiel. They are holding signs that say "I believe you" in Hebrew, referring to the women victims of Kastiel.
Protesters demonstrate outside the courthouse during the sentencing hearing of Alon Kastiel. They are holding signs that say "I believe you" in Hebrew, referring to the women victims of Kastiel. Credit: Meged Gozani

The number of serious sex crime cases opened by the police has risen 22 percent over the last decade, police statistics show, including an 8.5 percent jump from 2016 to 2017 alone.

Last year, police opened 4,282 such cases, the highest number of the past decade. Serious sex crimes include rape and forcible sexual assault but not ordinary sexual assault or sexual harassment.

Prof. Mally Shechory-Bitton, a criminologist from Ariel University, said the increase most likely stemmed from increased reporting rather than an increase in crime. Public awareness of this issue has risen in general, she noted, and the #MeToo campaign in particular had a major impact.

“When we see famous people choosing to tell about their assaults, this gives victims legitimacy to file complaints,” she explained. The sight of famous people sitting in jail for sex crimes gives victims even more incentive to file complaints, she added.

Nevertheless, she warned, “We still know that most victims opt not to complain. It’s hard to say the data reflects a drastic change in public faith in the police.”

Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, also attributed the increase largely to the #MeToo campaign, adding that the rise in the number of cases was “important but insufficient.”

“Seventy percent of the cases which reach the prosecution are closed for lack of evidence,” she explained. “So in practice, the victims aren’t getting justice.”

The police similarly agreed that the increase was due to growing awareness, which led to an increased willingness to file complaints.

There was also an 18 percent rise in murder cases last year, to 121, up from 102 in 2016. But the number of property crime cases fell by eight percent.

Indictments have been filed in only 14 percent of all the cases opened last year for all crimes, the data shows. But in the police’s investigations and intelligence department, which is also investigating several cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the indictment rate was 63 percent.

The data revealed a sharp rise in agricultural crime since 2015. Police said data from earlier years wasn’t included because the system for measuring these crimes had changed. But a glance at previous years’ reports shows that the definition of agricultural crime is exactly what it used to be.

Speaking to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee in May, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said the “general picture” with regard to agricultural crime was “a drop in crime and an increase in reporting.” But farmers who have been victims of such crimes told Haaretz that they believe the increase reflects an actual rise in crime rather than merely increased reporting.

They also complained that police rarely catch the criminals. As a result, their outlays on security have soared, and insurance companies no longer want to insure them, they said.

“Not only is there no rise in reporting, but people have stopped complaining to the police, because each complaint costs you half a workday,” said Nissim Seroussi, 65, who has a farm near Omer.

But police strongly disagreed. “Contrary to what is being claimed, there was no rise in the agricultural crime statistics; the exact opposite occurred,” a police spokesperson said, attributing the apparent increase to a definitional change that led to cases that weren’t included in previous years’ figures being included in last year’s count.

A comparison based on the new definition would show that agricultural crime cases dropped 14 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year, the spokesperson added.

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