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Gang Rape of Teenager in Eilat Sheds Light on Sexual Violence in Israel
Israeli soldiers wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic hold placards as they take part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv on August 23, 2020, to denounce sexual violence against women following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Gang Rape of Teenager in Eilat Sheds Light on Sexual Violence in Israel

Women call for the government to make educational and legal changes

The gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in the Israeli Red Sea beach resort of Eilat sent shock waves through the country, with outraged women protesting in the streets and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denouncing it as “a crime against humanity.”

So far, 11 suspects have been arrested in addition to the manager of the hotel where the attack took place. The incident came to light late Thursday, although it occurred about a week earlier. Israeli women held nationwide protests Sunday, and Netanyahu said 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 cases.

Only 3.3% of the rape cases reported to The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel [ARCCI] for 2018 (the latest year for which statistics were available) were gang rapes. Less than 10% of rapes in Israel and the West are perpetrated by people the victim does not know. While the 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,” Orit Sulitzeanu, ARCCI executive director, told The Media Line. “This case is so severe that it touched the heart of so many people in Israel.”

The number of rapes reported to the police in 2018 rose 12% to 1,166 from 1,037 the previous year, according to ARCCI. A total of 6,220 sexual felony cases were reported to the police in 2018, while ARCCI was informed of 12,077 cases. 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 ages 12 through 18, while 37% are committed by adults over 18.

“We know these … happen every once in a while and occur more frequently in summer when everyone is on vacation,” Michal Gera Margaliot, executive director of Israel Women’s Network, told The Media Line. She cited an alleged mass rape last year in Ayia Napa, Cyprus where a British woman accused a group of Israelis aged 15-22.

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 said.

She called for government action to combat sexual violence.

There should be educational initiatives, she said. “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.”

I hope this case will be a game-changer in Israeli society. This case is so severe that it touched the heart of so many people in Israel.

Yael Sherer, head of Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group, agreed 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 told The Media Line. “We are a high-tech nation with the technology to do it, and we don’t.”

“Sexual violence is not a priority for this government, and it hasn’t been in any government,” Sherer added.

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 said. “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 said. “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,” she said.

“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 rape 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 said.

Eilat’s Yoseftal Hospital is not one of them. Without a car, the teenager who was raped in Eilat would have to take a 2.5-hour bus ride to the closest place for care – in Beersheba.

“People are … on the streets with signs and yelling because they feel this country abandoned them…as they have to handle what happened to them on their own,” said Sherer, who participated in the women’s protests.

The 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 in all of 2019.

“The numbers jumped, the [stress of the] lockdown was a big part of it,” Margaliot said.

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