“S#x Acts,” a film dealing with the problem of teenage sexual abuse, was screened at the Knesset on Tuesday, at the initiative of MKs Merav Michaeli (Labor Party) and David Tsur (Hatnuah), who chairs the parliamentary subcommittee on trafficking in women and prostitution.
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The entire Knesset staff was invited to see the film, in an effort to encourage public discussion of sexual exploitation and the blurring of the line between consent and refusal in the sexual context. The audience included Knesset members from Meretz, the Labor Party, Hatnuah, Hadash, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.
The film, made by Johnathan Gurfinkel and Rona Seagal and produced with funding from Keshet broadcasting and the Israel Film Fund, tells the story of a teenage girl named Gili (played by Sivan Levy) who is a new student at a Herzliya high school. A group of popular boys in her grade exploit her sexually suggestive attempts to ingratiate herself with them and impress her female classmate by passing her from one to the other, as well as to boys outside of school.
The subject of the movie is always topical, but it was particularly so this week following the arrest in the Tel Aviv area of a group of 14-year-old boys who are suspected of involvement in the gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl. Two Knesset members, Issawi Freij of Meretz and Afou Agbaria of Hadash, walked out in the middle of the screening, finding the content difficult to watch. “I understand the film’s message, but to my taste there were too many explicit scenes,” Freij explained as he left. “That became the main theme of the movie.”
Gurfinkel, who directed the film, remarked the following day that the two Knesset members were closing their eyes to reality. “Due to the current case of the 12-year-old girl, it is as if the film has shifted from the cultural pages [of the newspapers] to the news pages. It was very exciting to have it shown at the Knesset to police staff, prison staff, representatives from the judicial system, the education system and social workers,” he said.
“At a number of discussion sessions after the film was shown [elsewhere], the question came up as to whether it should be shown to young people or not. This time, the question was not asked and that’s good. That means that they are not absolving themselves of responsibility. The members of the audience expressed interest in making use of the film, not that I want it to become a regular social studies classroom film. It’s important for me to have it shown in movie theaters.”
Liat Klein, legal counsel to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, said she cried throughout the film. “There were moments when I almost felt I was with Gili here in the room; that I wanted it to go away, for it to be over,” she said.
Rona Segal, who wrote the script, was also present for the screening at the Knesset. There was a sense of sadness - even despair - at the end, she said, as had occurred at other screenings of the movie. “Usually, when the film is shown to professionals and dignitaries, someone asks what’s going to happen to our youth. I now view the question as kind of a way for us as members of the audience to evade the emotional burden that the film imposes on us. The tendency is to shift immediately to a defensive mode.”
“It happened at this showing, too, and all the more so. The more that the audience is full of professional people the more this reaction is accentuated,” she said. “I understand the difficulty in dealing with this because what the film is saying is that this is happening all the time and everywhere and we usually don’t know it. A professional in the field can justifiably get discouraged and get into a defensive posture, but anger is also positive, something that creates change.”
“I was pleased that the screening was organized with the help of David Tsur [in addition to Merav Michaeli], meaning that those involved in the initiative were a man and a woman. It’s important that this not be an event just for women,” Segal said. “It’s not just our issue. And the Knesset members who stayed to the end were also men. We had hoped that more Knesset members would come. [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni very much wanted to come. They called from her office a number of times trying to change the timing of the showing. The others didn’t respond in the same way.”
Segal noted the absence of right-wing Knesset members, although in fact Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud and and David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu were in attendance. “If there is one issue that is not linked to the right or the left, this is the issue,” she said.