Taking Back the Night

The police are stepping up patrols on Mount Scopus to end the harassment of women students at Hebrew University.

Two weeks ago Friday, S., a student at Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus, left her dormitory and started walking to the synagogue, as she does every week.

"It was about a quarter to five," says S., a second-year social-science student. "It was still broad daylight. I waited for a friend in the square just opposite the dormitories. Suddenly a boy on a bicycle began to circle around me and make remarks, something that happens here all the time ....

Mount Scopus - Tess Scheflan - 29012012
Tess Scheflan

"When he started talking dirty I tried to get away, but he didn't leave and kept on riding alongside me. He said to me: 'If you lift your skirt I'll go.' I tried to tell him 'Enough,' then suddenly he cut me off with his bicycle. I stopped and he put his hand between my legs and lifted my skirt."

S. tried to slap the attacker's hand, but he wasn't deterred. Only when she turned around and started walking quickly toward the security guard's booth did he flee. Later that day, S. filed a complaint with the police, but no one has been arrested.

An online survey by the student union showed that S. is not alone; in recent months dozens of female students have been victims of sexual harassment near the campus in East Jerusalem, from whistles and nasty remarks to physical contact.

About 200 women students who live in the dormitories took part in the survey, and almost 60 percent said they didn't feel safe enough to walk near the dorms after dark. One-quarter said they had been sexually harassed three times in the past three months, and nearly a third reported no fewer than four such incidents.

These figures reached the Knesset Education Committee, which has scheduled a discussion for Tuesday. The student union, meanwhile, gave the figures to the police and the university's security unit, attaching a letter urging them to address the situation immediately.

"In recent weeks many students have approached us due to violence against them," wrote the student union. "One example is ... the sexual harassment of female students living in the dormitories .... This is physical violence that includes touching intimate body parts. It's not limited to verbal harassment."

The security unit has thus announced that a security van will soon patrol the street from the campus to the dorms. At a meeting last week between students and the commanders of the Shalem police station in East Jerusalem, the officers said that in the next few days a police van will be stationed permanently outside the dorms.

In addition, the police's special patrol units will occasionally show up in the area during the evening. This is an unusual step, since these forces are normally reserved for very crowded areas.

Also, after claims that some of the harassment comes from residents of the nearby village of Isawiya, the student union is in regular contact with Darwish Musa Darwish, the village's mukhtar, in an attempt to reach the village teenagers.

"The government has to have a systematic policy that will provide a suitable solution to the needs of the village residents," says the chairman of Hebrew University's student union, Itai Gotler. "Only then will we see a real change in the residents' behavior patterns."