Now we can breathe a sigh of relief: The Cyprus court that convicted a young woman of inventing a rape and filing a false complaint against a group of Israel youths has sentenced her to probation, not prison time. So she can immediately return home to Britain and begin the difficult process of rehabilitation that awaits her.
Since the rape complaint was not examined in a legal proceeding, we will probably never know just what happened between the girl and the group of boys she accused before subsequently withdrawing the complaint. But we know more than enough to understand that this incident is a black mark for everyone who was in charge of the boys’ education.
We may never know if the girl managed to say “no” or if the boys heard her plea. We cannot know if the incident meets the Cypriot – or Israeli – legal definition of rape. But we don’t need any legal ruling to tell us that these boys who have families, who are products of the Israeli school system, were present in a room where some of them had sex with this one girl while others filmed it.
The girl claimed she didn’t want most of the sexual acts that were done to her, but none of the boys bothered to notice this, none called attention to this or did anything to stop what was happening. They participated, watched and filmed.
In not one of them, to the best of our knowledge, did any question arise as to whether what was happening was respectful of the girl; as to whether she was enjoying it; as to whether they should check her willingness to continue with it. And if anyone there did wonder about such things, he suppressed his doubts and went on filming. Therefore we know that the boys’ parents and the school system did not succeed in teaching them basic, respectful human relations.
All that the school system needs to do is inculcate in its pupils the most basic human values. The message that it should make sure is conveyed could not be simpler: Love your fellow man [and woman] as yourself. Never do unto others – male or female – what you do not wish to have done unto you.
Before you penetrate another person’s body, look them in the eye, look at their body language, check if they want this. Ask them. Listen to them. And if you have a reasonable doubt – stop. Because someone who enters the body of another person against their will is violating the Holy of Holies.
All the school system had to say to these young men is, never assume that a girl who “consented” to sleep with your friend is also “consenting” to sleep with you, or that you may be present in the room while she is sleeping with him, or that you may film her.
Sex is not something that a group does to a girl who has had too much to drink, or who doesn’t speak the same language as you, or for whatever reason cannot convey to you what she does and doesn’t want. Sex is something that people do for their mutual pleasure, out of mutual respect, consideration and taking great care not to hurt or scar the other person.
The school system did not teach these boys that human beings are sensitive, fragile creatures. That if a group assaults a girl, whether or not she manages to resist, it could crush her self-image, her trust in others, her ability to develop intimate relationships. That it can leave her with a trauma that will come back to strike her at unexpected moments.
None of this is complicated. It should have been self-evident. One would expect that every parent would do his or her best to instill such basic rules of behavior in their children. That the school system would try to teach its pupils to be attuned to themselves and to those around them. To those who are like them and unlike them. For this is the elementary meaning not just of universal values and human rights, but of every moral system, including Judaism.
The terrible incident in Cyprus is another wake-up call, among many. Parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, education ministers – do something so that the young people whose education you are entrusted with won’t treat one another as objects to be used and laughed about and shown off to friends.
It is unacceptable to just ignore things and pass the responsibility to someone else; it is not enough to merely hope that change will happen on its own. Instill in them, if not love for humankind, then at least the most basic consideration. In the Jewish tradition, when moral education has been such an appalling failure, we call it Sodom and Gomorrah.
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