The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel reported on Wednesday an uptick of 50 percent in the number of calls to emergency hotlines for victims of sexual assault over the past week.
The Association said the surge is related to the #WhyIDidntReport campaign, where thousands of people shared on social media their sexual harassment and/or assault experiences and the reasons why they did not report them to the authorities.
According to the Association, the rise in complaint numbers was particularly sharp – a 140 percent uptick - in the hotline's chat function, used predominantly by people aged 17 to 30 years old. The number of men who turned to the hotline doubled compared to the average, and the age range among men expanded as well. Many callers described feeling "overwhelmed" after reading the stories people shared.
The #WhyIDidntReport campaign erupted after the controversy surrounding the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanuagh to the United States Supreme Court. President Donald Trump and other senior officials asked why Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, did not complain years before. In response, many people, including Israelis, shared their experiences of sexual assault and why they did not turn to the authorities, adding the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.
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The U.S.-based Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network also said it had seen an uptick of 42 percent in calls to their hotlines in the 24 hours following Trump's criticism of Ford. The Network tweeted on September 28 that the number of people who turned to it on the day of Ford's hearing was 201 percent higher than the average. RAINN also said it had seen a similar surge in calls in 2016, after the publication of Trump's recording from 2005 where he boasted of his behavior towards women, saying: "I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
Organizations supporting survivors of sexual assault: 'Proof that the campaign caused change'
Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said that "extensive exposure to sexual assault content, such as the one we've experienced in the past week through the #WhyIDidnt protest, raises in many survivors a surge of emotions causing mental and emotional difficulty that sometimes impairs their ability to function. It's important to note that such feelings are natural and normal."
Sulitzeanu added: "It's important to remember that many carry the wound with them at all times, even when the topic is not making headlines, and it is our societal responsibility to provide them with recognition and support. The crisis centers are available always and we invite anyone who wants to speak or is considering their next steps to turn to us. The number is 1202 – the hotline for women and 1203 – the hotline for men. You can also find us on Google chat."
Bracha Barad, executive director of the KULAN organization that promotes feminist activism in Israel, was one of the initiators of the Israeli #WhyIDidntReport campaign. In response to the new figures, Barad said that "this is proof that the campaign has caused change. Of course, turning to crisis centers is not an alternative to real solutions, to creating a situation where turning to the authorities can be the default option for sex crimes. But the process taking place among women is also important. The surge in calls to the crisis centers shows that we already understand that sexual assault is not our fault, that we are wronged, that us choosing not to turn to the authorities is not a sign of weakness but a justified choice caused by ineffective regulation. From here, systemic change will start."
Keren Greenblatt from the Layla Tov organization that works to prevent sexual harassment in the nightlife scene and to create safe personal space at parties told Haaretz: "These figures are encouraging because they show how much influence public awareness can have and how important it is to create legitimization and to sound a voice for dealing with assaults. And we are also seeing the public demand from institutions and organization that they address violence and sexual harassment."