The alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in the Red Sea beach resort of Eilat sent shockwaves throughout Israel, with outraged women protesting in the streets and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denouncing it as “a crime against humanity.”
In addition to the manager of the hotel where the alleged attack took place, so far 11 suspects have been arrested for taking part in the alleged gang rape of the teenager who claims she was sexually assaulted by more than 30 men and youths in her hotel room.
The alleged incident came to light late Thursday, although it had occurred about a week earlier.
Following reports of the alleged rape, Israeli women held nationwide protests on Sunday, with Netanyahu saying, "it is not only a crime against the girl, is a crime against humanity itself that deserves all condemnation.”
Israel had already had an increase in domestic violence cases against women, which triggered protests during the first wave of coronavirus pandemic in the country.
In 2018 (the latest year for which statistics were available), only 3.3% of the rape cases reported to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel were gang rapes. Less than 10% of rapes in Israel and the West are perpetrated by people the victim does not know. While the alleged Eilat attack is unusual in fitting into these categories, it also shines a spotlight on all sexual violence against women in Israel.
“I hope this case will be a game-changer in Israeli society,” says ARCCI executive director Orit Sulitzeanu. “This case is so severe that it touched the heart of so many people in Israel.”
ARCCI says 1,166 rapes were reported to the police in 2018 - a 12% increase from the 1,037 in 2017.
A total of 6,220 sexual felony cases were reported to the police in 2018, while ARCCI was informed of 12,077 cases - almost double the number.
Some rapes are not reported to the police by the victims because of the trauma involved or the difficulty in getting rape kits, which are available at only five hospitals in Israel. Only about 10% of the victims who call ARCCI also file police reports.
In most gang rapes in Israel, the perpetrators are teenagers. Some 63% of group felony rape involves males aged 12 to 18, while 37% are committed by adults.
“We know these things… happen every once in a while and occur more frequently during the summer when everyone is on vacation,” says Michal Gera Margaliot, executive director of Israel Women’s Network.
She cites the alleged mass rape last year in Cyprus, where a British woman accused a group of Israelis aged 15-22 of assaulting her.
The youths were released and the woman was convicted of public mischief for making a false accusation. She later said she was pressured to retract her statement.
A group of Israeli activists had traveled to Cyprus to support her. However, the youths received a celebratory homecoming from family and friends, triggering public anger.
“The attitude here was ‘boys will be boys,’” Margaliot says. She called for government action to combat sexual violence.
There should be educational initiatives, she says.
“There is no lesson that handles gender equality … and we don’t speak enough about sexual harassment and assault…this is not the way it should be.”
Yael Sherer, head of Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group, agrees that the government should do more.
“There are TV shows that show you that rape can be solved with DNA within 20 minutes of the occurrence. We are so far from that here,” she says.
“We are a high-tech nation with the technology to do it, yet we don’t. Sexual violence is not a priority for this government, and it hasn’t been in any government.”
Activists also want to see changes in the legal system. In 2018, only 17% of all sexual felony cases were prosecuted, according to ARCCI.
“There needs to be a specific court that specializes in sexual felonies, like there is an economic and labor court,” Margaliot says. “We need to look at legislation regarding sexual assault and extend the statute of limitations in some cases.”
Sherer says that rape kits need to be legally protected from destruction. “There was no backlog of rape kits [waiting to be tested, like in the United States] because nobody kept them,” she says.
“As a result, we cannot convict any [perpetrator] from previous years. There needs to be a law that says whether it’s evidence and/or a medical specimen,” Sherer says.
“Since they were not defined and didn’t have a legal status, the government could do whatever it wanted with them. The government wanted to destroy them, and it did."
Sherer says that even though there was a decision made two years ago to stop destroying rape kits, justice is still delayed today because of the lack of access to said kits.
“There are only five hospitals in Israel [set up to deal with rape victims] that give this specialized treatment and collect evidence, and it hinders our opportunity to catch rapists,” she says.
Eilat’s Yoseftal Hospital is not one of them. Without a car, the teenager who was allegedly raped in Eilat would have had to take a 2.5-hour bus ride to the closest place for care – the city of Be'er Sheva.
“People are … on the streets with signs and yelling because they feel this country has abandoned them…as they have to handle what happened to them on their own,” says Sherer, who participated in the women’s protests.
The alleged rape in Eilat is one facet of the growth in violence against Israeli women. So far 16 women have been slain in Israel since the start of the year, compared to 13 killed for the entirety of 2019.
“The numbers jumped, the [stress of the] lockdown was a big part of it,” Margaliot says.
Article written by Tara Kavaler, reprinted with permission from The Media Line