A Tel Aviv court’s decision Monday to sentence a convicted rapist to community service rather than jail has sparked a storm of protest among rape victims’ groups and a Facebook page calling for the resignation of one of the judges.
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However, some legal experts say that the lenient verdict is not unreasonable given the circumstances.
Yaniv Nahman was originally indicted on three charges of rape, attempted rape two counts of indecent acts and dozens of instances of invasion of privacy. Police also suspect Nahman drugged the women, but because this could not be proven by lab testing, it was not included in the indictment.
Before the evidentiary phase of the trial, Nahman reached a plea bargain with the prosecution in which the indictment was significantly changed, and included only one count of a forced indecent act and one count of rape. Nahman pleaded guilty to carrying out forced sexual acts on a woman with whom he had been in a sexual relationship for years before the incident.
One complainant refused to testify in court and problems with the evidence emerged with regard to another woman’s complaint.
In explaining their lenient verdict, judges Miriam Diskin, Zion Kapah and Raanan Ben-Yosef said that Nahman had been in jail for six months during the trial in tougher conditions than prison, that he had undergone rehabilitation and had “expressed a sincere and true will to compensate the complainant for damage, at least in terms of the monetary aspect.” The judges also noted that Nahman had not committed further crimes and that during the police investigation his good name had been severely damaged.
Dr. Dana Fogatch of the Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime, said: “The judges talked about damage to reputation but what about the victim’s good name?”
Galia Woloch, chairwoman of the women's group Naamat, said the lenient verdict was “a very serious message that will deter women from filing police complaints. If that is what the court imposes after the efforts and strength of will it takes for a woman to complain and go through the legal trials, the court does not understand the psychological damage and the lifelong scars.”
A rape conviction carries a maximum sentence of 16 years. According to research carried out by the College of Management Academic Studies, which examined 790 verdicts of sexual offenses in Israel from 1990 to 2010, sentencing has grown harsher. For example, in 2000, the sentence was 83 months in prison, while in 2010, according to the research, the average sentence had risen to 91 months (seven and a half years).
The research was done before the law was amended setting clear parameters for sentencing, and there are no up to date data. Figures from the Israel Prison Service indicate that in 2014 43 percent of prisoners were jailed for all types of sexual offenses for 10 years or more.
According to Prof. Ariel Bendor of the Bar-Ilan University law school, “relative to rape the circumstances were on the low threshold and at the same time there was consideration of the fact that there had originally been more serious suspicions and many reports of cases that he was not tried for as well as the years that had passed since the incident. These are significant considerations when fitting the punishment to the specific case.”
Dr. Dana Hadar Danzig Rosenberg of Bar-Ilan University agreed. “Any case of rape is very serious. But when one reads the verdict, one must understand that it has to relate to the specific caseIf I were the judge I would have given a harsher sentence, but this is not an extreme case, considering that the offender was in jail for six months and underwent rehabilitation. From the perspective of the victims I actually think that jail is not the solution. Sometimes an apology and compensation are more significant.”
The prosecution said it would appeal the sentence.