Only When 'A.' Stops Being 'A.'

If the president or any other person suspected of sex crimes were suspected of economic crimes, or crimes involving violence and robbery, the situation would be reversed: The suspect would try to hide his face and the complainant would appear unconcealed.

The scenes are infuriating: The woman who complains about a crime committed against her appears on television, her face blurred, while the suspect appears at a press conference before a large crowd; the complainant's attorney tries to defend, while the suspect's lawyer arrogantly attacks. The public discussion focuses more on an investigation of the complainant's past than on the past of the person suspected of attacking her. The victim is humiliated and the suspect attacks; it is a world turned upside down. Not only is the face of the complainant blurred, the answer to the question of who is the suspect and who is the victim is also clouded.

These scenes only appear here when it comes to sex crimes. If the president or any other person suspected of sex crimes were suspected of economic crimes, or crimes involving violence and robbery, the situation would be reversed: The suspect would try to hide his face and the complainant would appear unconcealed. Those who seek to take pride in the strides Israeli society has made with regard to sexual violations should note that the path to justice and equality is still a long and difficult one.

Still, we have made some significant progress. There was a time, not so long ago, when everything was permissible, and even worthy of emulation and admiration. Those were the days when the bureaus of Israel Defense Forces generals were filled with soldier-beauty queens for decoration, "the best men become pilots, and the best women go for the pilots," "maidele, make some coffee," and the unforgettable "when you say 'no,' what do you really mean?" Hands and other organs groped female clerks and secretaries in every sector, with almost no inhibition. Hurtful, sexist and chauvinistic comments were regularly directed toward them. A laudable societal change has occurred from then until today, when a government minister is put on trial for allegedly forcing a kiss upon a female soldier. The bastards changed the rules and the Israeli man perhaps realizes that not everything is permitted, but it is doubtful whether he has internalized the change in ethical standards. The fear of the law casts a shadow, but there are still many among us who think that this new situation is "intolerable."

The public reaction to the president's case lends the impression that even if there is broad agreement that the president has to go, there are quite a few people who actually see him as the victim. There is almost no compassion for his alleged victims. We feel compassion toward a victim of a sexual crime only if she also suffered serious physical violence. The public heart reaches out to the women raped by Benny Sela, but not to the victims of the avaricious boss. The fact that only 11 percent of the callers to rape crisis centers report attacks by strangers, while some 90 percent report previous acquaintance with the assailant, does not change a thing. Our sympathy is with a rape victim who was attacked by a stranger in a dark alley and viciously beaten. Any other instance of sexual assault - that is, the majority of these crimes - is regarded skeptically, accompanied by a mischievous wink. Thus, residents of Kiryat Malakhi could be heard saying last week that the president merely "screwed and didn't rape," or that the complainants actually "enjoyed" it.

The courageous public stance of A. and her attorney, Kinneret Barashi, is very admirable. But the path will only be completed when A. stops being A. and appears openly in public. Why does she need to hide her identity? Would she also be so ashamed if she were robbed or wounded by gunfire?

The fact that a disgusting campaign of mudslinging and incitement is conducted against most of the women who complain of sexual assault shows us that there is still a long way to go. The assumption that the two complainants now face "an intolerably difficult period" is perceived as a fact of life, a decree from Heaven. But why? Why is it appropriate for the victim to undergo this humiliating campaign of rummaging through her past and invading her privacy, while disseminating lies and slander? Why is it relevant at all to address the complainants' "past"? The self-righteousness of the attorneys, who claim they are only seeking to undermine the credibility of the complainants, is ludicrous. A person can conceal his past and still level truthful accusations. The discussion of A.'s past, with the aid of criminal elements and dubious declarations, has proceeded unimpeded, with almost no one standing up to defend her.

These suspects and their attorneys wage these campaigns of incitement with cynicism, knowing that this is the only way to deter other injured parties from complaining. Society as a whole and the justice system in particular should have denounced such behavior. A society whose rules have undergone real change would not have allowed this, if only out of a desire to discover the truth and prevent its contamination, goals that are impossible to realize when terrorizing the victims.

The fact that a significant increase in complaints about sex crimes was recorded last year - both in the IDF (a 300 percent increase in the number of rape complaints compared to 2005) and in the civilian sector (an increase of 20 percent in the number of calls placed to the help centers) - perhaps indicates an encouraging change: Despite everything, more women are finding the courage to speak out.

Every cloud has a silver lining: The president's case has put the issue of sexual assault on the agenda. The public discussion now being conducted should lead to a complete change in outlook. Perhaps when this wretched case is over, we will finally understand who is the true victim and who is the criminal, who deserves a badge of shame and who merits compassion. On the day A. and those like her can look straight into the public's eye while their assailants are the ones who hide in shame, we will know that this task has been accomplished.