The vast majority of alleged sex crimes never reach the courts, according to official figures cited in the annual report of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.
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The report, based on police and State Prosecutor’s Office data, states that 87 percent of cases are not prosecuted, in two thirds of those cases due to lack of evidence. Only 15 percent of cases do not result in indictment because the authorities believe the suspect is innocent.
In cases of sexual harassment the statistics tell a similar story. Out of 388 cases of suspected harassment, only 19 resulted in an indictment. In 45 percent of those cases, lack of evidence was the culprit and in 32 percent the authorities deemed that the circumstances did not warrant an indictment.
“These figures mean that the offender is still out there. The high criminal bar that allows most offenders to escape punishment, and it isn’t realistic,” said Liat Klein, legal adviser to the association. When cases are not prosecuted, Klein said, it is often because the authorities decide between two versions of the circumstances. In sexual offenses and harassment reasonable doubt can unravel a case more easily than in other criminal cases, because clear-cut proof is often lacking in sexual offenses, she said.
According to the report, over the past three years the number of complaints filed with the police has gone up. This year, 5,887 complaints were filed, 16 percent more than in 2012. Still, the number of women who decide to go to the police is still much lower than the number of women who approach rape crisis centers. According to the figures, only 14.5 percent of complainants who turn to a rape crisis center file a police complaint.
Recent years have seen a change in awareness in Israel and “more and more victims are lifting their heads and have begun to talk about their experience – the attack, the psychological and physical difficulties it brought with it, the response of people around them as well as difficulties with the authorities. The criminal process is a long, hard and exhausting one for the victim, during which she is exposed to a ‘second rape,’ in police interrogation and on the witness stand,” said Orit Sulizeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. “The criminal proceeding is not easy, but it’s the only way to get justice, deterrence and keep the offender from society.”
The report shows that the greatest rise in complaints has been in the army, where the number of complaints has almost doubled in the recent five-year period – 1,101 complaints in 2015 as opposed to 610 in 2010. Last month the head of the Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolanski, sent a letter to adjutants warning of the rise in sexual harassment reports but the decline in complaints to the Military Police.
In 23 percent of the cases of suspected sexual offenses in the army, the offenders were officers or warrant officers.
The association’s report also notes that half of all victims of sexual offenses are minors, 88 percent of attacks are perpetrated by a person known to the victim, and 27 percent of attackers are parents or other relatives.
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation today approved a bill presented by MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) to expand the definition of a relative – with regard to the special, extended statute of limitations on incest – to cases of attacks by cousins. The bill, written with the assistance of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, seeks to include attacks by cousins, which are currently exempt from the special prolonged statute of limitations in cases of incest.
“Many cases are not reported to the authorities and do not reach the courts because of the statute of limitations in this matter,” the explanatory notes to the bill state, whereas many victims of incest only report the crimes against them after many years.
The report also states that 12.5 percent of sexual attacks occur in the workplace, and that some 27 percent of adult female victims were in a work relationship with their attacker.
More than half of all victims only seek help more than a year after the attack, and 20 percent seek help only after 10 years or more.