For years, Israeli child-protection officials have looked on in despair as female pedophiles and incestuous mothers brought to court for molesting boys were never even charged with rape.
“It happened several times that teachers or mothers of boys were charged with [on the basis of] facts describing rape [i.e., forced sexual intercourse], and the offense could not be [referred to legally as] rape, and that’s of course absurd,” said attorney Vered Windman, head of the legal department of the Israel National Council for the Child. “One mother had intercourse with two of her sons but was indicted for indecent acts, not rape.”
According to Israeli law, “indecent acts” is a less grave charge than rape and carries a less severe penalty. Article 345 of The Penal Law (1977) defines rape as penetration of a female by a body part or object, without consent. Therefore, only females can be the victim of rape, and females cannot be accused of raping a boy. In contrast to Canada, Australia, South Africa and Western European countries, Israel is the only country which in its laws specifies the gender of the victim of sexual assault.
According to experts, many male Israeli victims of sexual assault feel that the country’s legal definition of rape is not only unjust, but also mirrors a broader problem: the fact that society does not recognize that males are frequently subject to sexual assault, and that it is an equally traumatic experience for them as female victims.
In this country, as elsewhere, rape is, of course, a particularly critical issue for women. According to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, the situation in Israel basically reflects that in the West: About one in three women has experienced some form of sexual abuse, and about one in five has experienced rape, the ARCCI says. But sexual abuse is also a critical issue for males. The National Male Hotline, which is operated by the association, reports that up to age 12, boys and girls in Israel are sexually molested at the same rate, and one in six males is molested during his lifetime. These are roughly the same rates reported in the United States.
While some research in the West shows a lower frequency of male molestation, all studies show that regardless of the gender of the victim, such acts occur frequently. The relevant studies present widely diverse data and conclusions, depending on how rape is defined, and on where and how information is collected. For example, some countries, especially in the Middle East, only collect statistics involving rape based on crime reports or convictions. However, many male and female victims alike do not want to report incidents of rape to the authorities, so the data are very inaccurate. In the U.S., the FBI changed its definition of rape to gender-neutral language earlier this year to help improve the accuracy of data collected.
To help Israeli boys who have been victims of sexual violence to get better representation in the courtroom, the Israel National Council for the Child, with the backing of MK Yariv Levin, is now preparing to submit a petition requesting that the Knesset and Justice Ministry put a 2010 bill back on the agenda. This legislation is aimed at changing the gender-limited language in existing rape-related laws. The petition will likely be filed in the coming days.
For more than a decade, the issue of gender in such legislation has been debated at the Knesset, at the urging of the NCC. Most recently, discussion of the 2010 bill stalled due to disagreements over whether a victim of rape should be called a “person” or a “minor.” The Justice Ministry has pushed for “person,” but women’s organizations argue that the language proposed for “person” would allow adult male rapists to use the language that child victims can and claim that, “she made me do it.”
Windman said that this time she will press the Knesset and the Ministry of Justice to use the word “minor,” with the hope that both feminist organizations and the Justice Ministry will prefer “partial change rather than no change.”
If such legislation is passed, women could be indicted on the charge of raping a male minor (i.e., up to the age of 18), and said minor can be seen as the victim of rape if he is coerced into performing sexual intercourse.
The ARCCI will be promoting related bills this Knesset session, including one drawn up by MKs Michal Rosin (Meretz) and Miri Regev (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu) requiring the training of health, welfare and education professionals in how to identify and report female and male child sexual abuse as a requirement for receiving or renewing their licenses. The association is also working with Rosin on a bill proposing to lengthen the statute of limitations on charging a family member with child sexual assault, rape and sodomy.
The controversy surrounding the use of gender in local legislation relating to rape reflects broader gender-related attitudes in society, victims and experts say. According to Dr. Hanita Zimrin, founder of ELI: The Israel Association for Child Protection, sexual abuse was always considered here to be a female issue, and there is not yet enough awareness that it also happens frequently to males. Today, her organization gets about 7,200 calls a month regarding sexual assault, and at least half concern the molestation of boys. These cases, Zimrin noted, show a rate of “about 50-50” with respect to male vs. female perpetrators. About 20 percent of callers are perpetrators looking for help.
“The police, organizations and welfare authorities know sexual abuse of boys [is] a massive phenomenon,” Zimrin said. “Many of the boy victims are under age 10 and some are under age 5.”