How Not to Take a Statement From a Sexual Assault Suvivor

Osher Senyor
Osher Senyor
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People hold signs with slogans such as "it's not your fault" in the Slut Walk in Tel-Aviv, protesting sexual violence against women
Osher Senyor
Osher Senyor

Do you know what it’s like to be interviewed at a police station alongside criminals in huge black kippot, with the chirping of pagers and people in uniform milling around? A sexual assault victim filing a police complaint encounters bureaucracy, paperwork and computer records. What was hitherto locked in the victim’s soul comes out and control over it slips away. Once you’ve filed a complaint there’s no going back, and let’s face it – standing around outside the Russian Compound in the freezing Jerusalem winter isn’t a great idea, so you go inside, not least because it’s so cold.

When a victim reports the assault she needs to speak at her own pace; to recall, fall silent, to reconstruct, not to be caught in a ping-pong of question-answer with an interview typing away at a keyboard, its clacking mixing in with the horrors you are relating.

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In the first interview she will be asked: Why did you come only now, years later? She must answer convincingly: The onus of explaining is on her. This question is relevant for other offenses – bribery, money laundering, even murder. But in the absence of training, the detectives do their job as they know it. The question is in the criminal realm, but the answer is in the emotional realm. The system has not been adapted to suit the emotional state of the victim. Sexual offenses cannot be treated like other crimes.

During the follow-up interview, a colleague of the detectives may enter the room suddenly, asking about their lunch order. Then a third-party joins the deliberations, as though the questioning of a victim on the details of her rape was not interrupted in favor of the issue of lunch.

Later, in between printing forms, the nice detective will chat with a friend about end-of-season sales while evidently mesmerized by her pompom-adorned cellphone.

During the confrontation with her attacker that can be part of the investigative process in Israel, the victim will hold a ballpoint pen, clicking it again and again to have something to hold on to, when she hears “it never happened” and then an Aramaic term, meaning “without a shred of evidence,” that the person typing doesn’t know.

Filing a complaint isn’t worth it for the victim: The assaults are committed in “concealment within concealment.” In the end, at the police station, it’s her story, however terrible, against the assailant’s denial.

Allow me to be cynical about statements like “It will give you closure.” Nothing will be closed here. Not under these conditions. As women, we have a social-feminist compact, and as a collective there is importance in filing a complaint in order to create a database of reports and details. But as an individual, you remain a statistic, so you take a Klonopin to slightly dull the anguish and the ongoing injury.

Making incremental changes won’t help. Care of and responsibility for the matter must be reassigned from the police to a more suitable entity – the Health Ministry, through the health care providers, which will have to cooperate with trained, female police detectives, therapists and social workers. Victims must be directed to a different space, such as a designated clinic without the trappings of police or government, without pistols in hip holsters.

Oh, and the icing on the cake: You are informed by phone that the case was closed – it’s a robocall from Information for Victims of Crime (MENA): There is new information in the case. To hear the update, press 1, as if it were a call from the bank. You press, and an electronic voice says: Case closed due to lack of evidence.

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