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She added that Israel’s macho culture reinforces the idea that males should be able to protect themselves. “Girls are ‘allowed’ to be victims, and boys are not. Society accepts reports [of abuse] from girls much more than from boys,” she said. “We have to increase awareness that victims are boys and girls, and they are not responsible [for what happens]. Their perpetrator is responsible.”
When seeking victims, pedophiles and other serious sexual deviants “hunt down” vulnerable children who are lonely, rejected or hungry for attention, but this has nothing to do with gender, she added.
Local child welfare organizations do not make the same distinctions as the law does between rape, sodomy and indecent sexual acts. “It is already emotionally hard enough for boys to be a victim of sexual assault, and especially when the semantics of law do not call it rape,” said Eran Hahn, head of the National Hotline for Men. “Men can’t be raped, according to society’s ‘mythology.’ The law mirrors that reality and keeps the myth alive.”
The hotline receives about 1,500 calls a year, some from perpetrators seeking help, but mostly from victims ranging from ages 14 to 21, the majority of whom were molested by boys and men. If the victims are under 14, they are referred to ELI. There are also cases of men between the ages of 25 and 35 being molested, Hahn said, but often “male survivors make the phone calls [to report the incident] 10 to 30 years afterward; it takes time to process.”
Hahn: “Society believes that the person who is penetrated was always the one raped; when a boy has an erection he is seen as consenting. So if a mother forces her son to have sex [by physical or emotional threat or manipulation], by law he was not raped. But it is a wound if a boy is forced to penetrate. It’s happening in every part of society secular and religious.”
But even if the definition of rape is changed, legislation relating to acts of sodomy should be merged with statutes concerning rape because, “the experience of violation is not different if it is an anus or vagina,” Hahn said. “In Israel, like in the U.S., most perpetrators are known … Ninety percent are neighbors, family, teachers, school or community-center counselors.”
Speaking out on film
The year 2007 marked the first time a documentary film was made in Israel in which the story of a male victim of sexual assault spoke out. The movie, by filmmaker Isri Halpern, won critical acclaim and portrayed the victim − in this case, Halpern himself − seeking out his (male) perpetrator on camera. In “Boys Do Cry” (“Yeled Mutar,” in Hebrew), Halpern is searching for the once-beloved maintenance worker who attacked him at the age of 9, in the school locker room after a Scouts event.
Halpern, who earlier this year won the DocAviv best documentary award for “Pole, Dancer, Movie” (about pole-dancing artist Neta Lee Levy), says today that he still gets mail from men and women saying that “Boys Do Cry” gave them courage to talk about their experiences, and that it changed their lives. After a recent screening, an older man who sells Halpern bourekas every morning grabbed his arm, with tears in his eyes.
“He said, ‘the same thing happened to me,’” Halpern said. “It is easier for people to identify with someone who has a career, looks normal …”
Another local filmmaker, Menahem Roth, who grew up in a Haredi community, also documented his efforts to confront his molester − a rabbi who attacked him when he was 11 − in the 2012 documentary “Pursued” (“Raduf,” in Yiddish and Hebrew.)
“Rape has nothing to do with gender,” Roth explained. “In Israeli society … men are expected and educated to be fighters and once you [can’t protect yourself], you don’t fit in.”
Because the law “minimizes the issue” of male rape, rapists can convince themselves and others that they are not acting as rapists when they force sex on males, he added. Traditional Jewish law also minimizes rape and makes it female-centered, such as in “Mishneh Torah,” where Maimonides addresses rape as constituting a loss of property to a father because of “damage” to his daughter, Roth said.
Chaim − not his real name − did not want to identify his family or community background. But since being molested in a yeshiva as a child, he has spent three decades thinking about why there is so much silence around the issue of sexual abuse in the religious community.
“People are ashamed to speak of problems their kids have. True, it could harm their kid’s reputation if people knew the kid was molested … but if they would have the manpower, money and organizational skills to deal with the problem, I wouldn’t mind if they dealt with it secretly,” he said.
“Instead, boys are kicked out of yeshivas for sexual activity, and they end up on the street or secular. There is a [lack] of social workers. No one [who is young and Haredi] knows about the hotlines. We need to raise awareness, and there needs to be [someone to trust] professionals in every community that people can speak to, and maybe if the police would have more Haredi officers, you would feel they were on your side.”
Chaim, 41, who today defines himself as Orthodox, is now considering going back to school to become a social worker or psychologist to help the boys in his community in a way that he was never helped.
For more information, call the Rape Crisis Centers in Israel Hotlines − men: 1203; religious men: 02-532-8000; women: 1202; religious women: 02-673-0002; Arabic speakers: 04-656-6813. The Israel Association for Child Protection Hotline − 1800-223-966. The National Council for the Child’s Child Victim Assistance Program: 02-678-0606.
This story originally appeared on Haaretz.com.*