The intrusive questioning of the policewomen who accused former Jerusalem District commander Maj. Gen. Nisso Shaham of sexual harassment – whether he performed fellatio on them, whether he climaxed, where he touched them, whether they did anything back – were revealed in the minutes of the women’s testimonies to the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct.
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According to testimony that reached Haaretz, such questioning was also common in other cases where senior police officers have been accused of sexually harassing subordinates – the cases of deputy commissioner Nissim Mor and Coastal District commander Maj. Gen. Hagai Dotan, for example.
The women complain not only that investigators insist they reveal the most graphic details about their relationship with the suspect, but also of threats that they will be fired or put on trial themselves if they do not provide a full account. They also complain that the investigators manipulate them – for instance, by presenting not necessarily true claims as information supposedly given by the suspect.
The attempt to root out the police culture of sexual harassment is essential and welcome, as is the motivation of investigators to get to the truth. However, the pattern and wording of the questions are themselves acts of violence against the women, with the usefulness of such questioning dubious.
Commander (ret.) Alex Or, a former senior investigator in the unit that investigates police misconduct, said the questions and style were “inappropriate, and not necessary for the benefit of the investigation. It’s almost pornographic. There is no need to go there.”
When asked why they do not complain about sexual abuse in real time, many women say that they do not want to suffer the torturous route of interrogation known as “the second rape.” The questioning in the current cases bears this out, and illustrates why women are afraid to complain or cooperate with law enforcement officers.
The necessary changes to the unacceptable organizational culture of the Israel Police with regard to women must also be inculcated in the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct, a unit that is meant to uncover defects and correct them.
The questioning of women complainants of sexual harassment should be conducted with the greatest possible sensitivity, not an atmosphere of aggressive prurience. Otherwise, the investigators are adding insult to the injury of the other crimes, leading to even greater contempt for the worth and dignity of female members of the police force.