Israel Must Fight the Rape Plague

A state in which the president was convicted of sexual harassment must shake off this contamination.

Aner Shalev
Aner Shalev
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Aner Shalev
Aner Shalev

A troublesome number of rape cases have flown under the radar recently, without generating any kind of meaningful public discourse. These include a rape in the restroom at the 44 Club in Tel Aviv; the rape of an American tourist at the Jaffa flea market; and the sentencing of the man found guilty of raping a teenage girl in Tel Aviv's Gan Ha'ir parking lot in May 2012.

The rapist in that last case received an especially harsh sentence of 30 years in prison. That ruling is unprecedented in its severity and, in terms of punishment, puts rape on a par with murder. That's fitting, as a rapist is a sort of murderer. Even if the body somehow survives - and it doesn't always - the soul is dead and, in many cases, will not come back to life. The trauma caused by rape is enough to split a life into two parts: before the rape, and after.

However, implementing more stringent punishments for rapists is not enough. A comprehensive series of steps and measures must be taken to put an end to this plague that has raged among us. Relying on flu and polio vaccines is not enough - against rape, too, and tendencies toward rape, it is possible and necessary to inoculate.

This inoculation must include a comprehensive educational campaign in schools, which should make it clear that no means no, and that taking advantage of inebriation is not a viable option. In addition, the government must launch a campaign to fight the war on rape and other types of sexual harassment. The war on traffic accidents includes publicly funded broadcasts ("Don't drink and drive" ), in which a ton of money is invested, but we haven't even started fighting the war on rape. What else needs to happen before we start combating this plague?

Even worse, the rape victim is also punished after the fact, by government authorities that treat her hostilely - as if she hasn't suffered enough. The prolonged, pervasive police investigations women are exposed to after filing a rape, or harassment, complaint are sometimes traumatic in and of themselves - often making the woman regret filing a complaint in the first place. We must adopt a more humane approach to such investigations - without, of course, compromising on learning the facts.

The justice system is not innocent here, either. In order to receive damages, a rape victim must prove the damage caused her by the rapist. The hidden assumption is that rape, in and of itself, is not harmful and, who knows, perhaps it's even fun - as one judge recently suggested. Rape victims must be relieved of this burden of proof, and should receive damages in every case.

Another problem lies in the state's attempt to prevent rape victims from being recognized as victims of hostile acts - in order to save on the obligatory payments that the law requires for such individuals.

We've recently received a chilling reminder of this fact. The 17-year-old victim in the Gan Ha'ir case claimed she was a victim of a violent crime - but her claim was rejected. Even a 13-year-old girl, who suffered a violent gang rape seven years ago at the hands of Palestinians - who spit on her and cursed her - has not been recognized as the victim of a hostile act. If that is not hostile, what is? When will the authorities stop causing trouble for these victims?

Public denunciation of rape and sexual harassment must also spread to workplaces, which are often chauvinist settings, quick to forgive or even support criminals. A state in which the president was convicted of sexual harassment must shake off this contamination.

Victims of rape and sexual harassment must not be punished a second time by losing their jobs or livelihoods. It is possible, and necessary, to change this fact by creating the appropriate laws. It is important to be more stringent with the perpetrators and - equally importantly - stop causing the victims additional suffering.

Former President Moshe Katsav arrives to hear the verdict in his rape trial at Tel Aviv District Court, December 30, 2010.Credit: Tal Cohen

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