Third of Israel's Higher Education Institutions Fail to Report on Handling of Sexual Harassment

Over the years, more institutions are reporting to the Knesset, but a disproportionately low number of complaints points to more problems, official says

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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סטודנטיות מאוניברסיטת בן גוריון מפגינות על טיפול המוסד בהטרדות מיניות, ב-2017
Students at Ben-Gurion University protesting against the institution's handling of sexual harassment, 2017. Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Nearly a third of Israeli higher education institutions that are required to report to the Knesset on how they deal with sexual harassment did not do so for the 2019-20 academic year, and half of those that did said they had received zero complaints.

The low number of reports may be "evidence of a problem of awareness and of how to deal with sexual harassment,” said Anat Maimoin, the legal advisor for the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women on Tuesday.

Out of the 152 institutions in Israel, including universities, academic colleges, technological colleges and professional and religious institutions, 47 did not submit reports for the year in question, while 45 reported no harassment complaints. Some 20 of the institutions that reported no complaints submitted blank or near-blank reports. Twenty-one schools reported one or two complaints, while the remaining 39 reported more than two.

All told, the institutions reported 390 incidents that were suspected of being sexual harassment, of which 150 resulted in formal complaints. Maimon said this was a low number relative to the number of institutions and the many students who study in them.

And yet, this number represents a substantial increase in reporting compared to previous years.

Maimon explained that ultra-Orthodox and other Torah institutions that are not submitting reports, or are submitting barely filled-out reports on grounds that “Such things don’t occur, thank God.” For example, the Beit Yaakov Teacher’s Seminary noted in its report that, “There are no such complaints,” because “values and morals prevail … with no digressions from the path.”

An analysis conducted in 2018 by the National Student Union showed that 70 percent of the sexual harassment complaints in higher education come from universities, even though only half of Israel’s students study there. The analysis also showed that even when incidents are reported in academic institutions, often only symbolic steps are taken, like a clarification meeting or reprimand.

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