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Danger in Doubting Women’s Tales of Sexual Assault

A 27-year old woman from Pardes Hanna committed suicide after the police released the prime suspect in her rape. The suspect is a former police officer in the Hadera police station in Israel — the very same station where the woman went to complain. In other words, the man was believed and let go by his former colleagues. The story and its aftermath raise issues about the way rape victims are treated in Israel, and about the old boys’ network that seems to permeate some of the country’s police departments.

According to reports in Ynet, the woman, a divorced mother of one studying graphic design, committed suicide on April 3, after filing two complaints about rape and undergoing a forensic medical examination. The police have confirmed that she filed these complaints and claimed that they began a proper investigation before releasing the man. However, one officer, police superintendent Yehuda Maman, bizarrely denied this and told reporters that she only came to wish the police officers a happy Passover.

The police who arrived on the scene after her death found detailed descriptions of her alleged attacks. According to her family members, after she filed her first complaint about being raped and identified her attacker, the police briefly interrogated the suspect — reportedly, he had been fired from the police department 10 years ago for criminal involvement — and quickly released him. A few days later, she filed a second complaint that she was attacked and raped by three men. Her family members said she was badly beaten the second time.

“If the police would have taken her complaint seriously, she would still be alive,” a family member said, adding that she had despaired at the thought that the entire police department was supporting her alleged rapist. The police denied any foot-dragging or pressuring the victim, and added that the investigation is still open.

The problem here is not just the suspected corruption, in which personal connections or “protekzia” seem to enable some people to get away with crimes committed. The story here also reflects the way women who report being sexually assaulted are treated by the police as well as by the general public. As one Hebrew internet forum demanded upon posting this story: “When are women going to be taken seriously?”

Even comments from people who presumably knew her and liked her reflect the tendency not to believe the rape victim. Here is how one of her neighbors described her, according to the Ynet story: “She was a totally normal woman. She is not the type who has a bad name or the type who is known for doing nonsense (shtuyot).”

There it is, folks, right there. The second a woman complains of being raped, the first thing some listeners conclude is that she must not be normal. She must be the type that does “nonsense.” The rape victim is guilty until proven innocent.

It is worth noting that the tendency to doubt rape victims is not a particularly Israeli phenomenon; it’s also prevalent in America. Last week, in fact, the Washington City Paper published a shocking story about a college girl who was raped at a fraternity house at Howard University. She had witnesses and evidence, and said that she still could not get the attention of the police or the hospital. The victim has since filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, both universities, several doctors and the D.C. police. She is seeking damages from the doctors and the D.C. police, whose actions she said resulted in “the probable loss of the opportunity to see her assailant brought to justice.”

Her story is horrible. But at least she is still alive.


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