A 43-year-old Rehovot man who works as a childbirth instructor was arrested Sunday for sexually abusing dozens of women in his care. One of the women recently posted an accusation on an Internet forum for pregnant women that the man had sexually abused her.
Other women responded with similar stories about the man, who claims to have developed a painless method for childbirth, leading to the launching of an undercover police investigation. The investigation revealed that the man is an attorney who had begun working as a doula, an individual who gives non-medical support to women in labor.
The suspect trained in a school in Kfar Sava, established a clinic in his living room and eventually had a large clientele. He is believed to have acted as a doula for some 60 births.
The suspect turned himself in to the Rehovot police station last Wednesday. He said he was aware of the complaints against him and asked police to interrogate him.
The police released the man without questioning him and told him that if a complaint was lodged, he would be summoned.
On Sunday, after collecting evidence, investigators from the police decided to arrest the suspect. The man told the police that he had invented a special method so that women would feel no pain during labor, and was writing a book about it. He said he had done nothing of a sexual nature.
Police contacted the women who had posted complaints on the forum and summoned them for questioning, as well as professionals in the field, to determine the parameters of appropriate treatment. By yesterday afternoon, dozens of women who had been the man's clients had lodged complaints. Most were of the same nature, and police said they realized the suspect had allegedly taken advantage of the women sexually.
According to the testimony, the man would ask the women not to come with their husbands to some of the sessions, and during treatment he would propose a method of avoiding hemorrhoids during birth. He would then allegedly sexually abuse them, including perineal massage, which is reportedly not the function of a doula.
His attorney, Ssasi Gez, told the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court at the man's remand hearing that the police had acted too hastily in arresting his client and had only done so because of his gender.
Gez said there are no rules about the work of a doula and that it cannot be determined that the suspect exceeded the bounds of the profession. Police said according to the complainants the man had committed "shocking acts" and therefore his name be released.
The court agreed, but following Gez's objection, the court gave the defense two more days during which the man's name and picture could not be released.
In an interview with a Rehovot magazine in 2009, the man, who is unmarried and lives alone in Rehovot, said of his studies: "I came to the first class with my jacket and tie and people thought I was from another planet. But after two or three classes, I was like one of the girls."
He said the instructor had conditioned his participation in the course on accompanying a birth, "because she didn't know if I was up to it."
Doula schools operating in Israel are under no supervision, with training usually lasting between six months and a year of once-weekly classes. Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv is the only hospital that opposes doulas in the labor room outright, although most hospitals do not support the practice.
It is believed that some 1,000 doulas are working in Israel, charging between NIS 1,700 to NIS 2,500 per birth.
Male doulas are rare. Gila Ronel, a doula and director of the Dyada parenting center says she has taught 500 doulas over 14 years, five of whom are male; two of them are working in the field.
The Health Ministry said in response that Doulas brought by the patient are the hospital's responsibility. "There is nothing to prevent a doula's presence in the labor room, like relatives, but as a rule the profession is not supervised or recognized by the ministry," the ministry said in a statement.
Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel said she told deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman that she would be initiating legislation to regulate the profession if the matter is not dealt with immediately.
"It is inconceivable that such a sensitive issue should be completely unregulated and anyone can do it," Gamliel said.
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