State prosecutors closed 84 percent of cases involving sex offenses last year, according to an annual report prepared by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel which will be presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality on Wednesday.
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“The report portrays a gloomy picture of the way the legal system handles sex offenses in general, and sexual harassment in particular,” said the head of the crisis center association, Orit Sulitzeanu. “A thorough change is required in the legal system, so that it can provide justice to the victims and help create a healthy society, devoid of sexual offenses.” She noted that over the last five years, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of people turning to these centers.
In 2016, 3,637 cases out of 4,039 sex-related cases involved aggravated sexual offenses, with 402 cases related to sexual harassment as the main charge. That year, prosecutors decided to indict in 16 percent of the cases they handled. By comparison, in 2014, 19 percent of the 3,687 cases that were opened resulted in an indictment.
Among the sex-crime cases closed, 69 percent were closed without any charges being filed, for lack of sufficient evidence. Thirteen percent were closed due to absence of guilt and another 13 percent were closed because it was concluded an indictment was unwarranted. Five percent of cases were closed for other reasons.
Last year, only 26 indictments were filed with harassment as the main charge, but sexual harassment featured in 99 cases in which charges were filed. A total of 324 cases of sexual harassment were closed, more than half of them due to lack of evidence. One fifth of the harassment files were closed becasue the circumstances didn’t warrant an indictment, and 16 percent were closed due to absence of guilt. In 2016 there were 101 appeals of decisions to close sex-related cases, with four appeals being sustained.
The annual report covers data obtained at nine rape crisis centers, as well as data from the police, state prosecutors, the internal police investigative unit and the Israel Defense Forces.
The report portrays 2016 as a turning point with regard to offenses committed by policemen, with a sharp drop in the number of complaints by policewomen regarding offenses at work. While 59 such complaints were filed in 2015, a significant rise compared to previous years, in 2016 there were only 21 complaints, reflecting a drop of 66 percent. At the same time there was a 33 percent increase in the number of files involving sexual offenses by policemen against civilians.
One explanation for the drop is the refusal of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh to deal with anonymous complaints, which the department of internal police investigations considers an important tool in investigating sexual offenses. The decision led to a dramatic drop in the number of anonymous letters claiming sexual offenses by policemen. Police, by contrast, attribute the drop to an extensive campaign and workshops organized by the commissioner’s adviser for women’s affairs. The data shows that 51 percent of files related to sex offenses by policemen led to indictments last year.
More people turning to crisis centers
The nine centers had almost 48,000 calls last year, reflecting a 34 percent increase over five years. These included charges of rape, sodomy, harassment, group assaults and incest. Only 13.7 percent of people who turn to these centers end up filing complaints to the police. Whereas half of the files police handle involve assailants who are strangers, only 8.4 percent of complaints at crisis centers involve strangers. Only 1.9 percent of police cases deal with sexual offenses committed by a parent, while in crisis centers 12.1 percent of complaints involve a parent.
Twenty percent of the cases at crisis centers involve offenses committed a decade or more earlier, with almost half of the plaintiffs who were under 12 at the time waiting at least a decade before coming forward. In that age group, more than half of the offenses were committed repeatedly.