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.”
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 .*