Opening up about sexual assault in Israel.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel

assault is not a single-county, single-culture, single-anything issue, and just as the U.S. is struggling with revelations like that out of Steubenville and the number of sexual assaults in the military, so is Israel.

In Israel’s case, many revelations revolve around the famous and powerful: Former President Moshe Katsav is currently serving a seven-year prison term for raping, sexually abusing and harassing three women; ex-Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted of sexual harassment; influential media figure Emmanuel Rosen was recently accused by 10 female colleagues of obsessive harassment and date rape; Tel Aviv District Court Judge Nissim Yeshaya said in court two weeks ago—while discussing the case of a young woman who was gang-raped at 13—that “some girls enjoy being raped.” Meanwhile, indictments for sex crimes in Israel’s military doubled in 2012. Haaretz reports:

In recent months, indictments on charges of sexual abuse have been filed against soldiers, officers and civilians employed on IDF bases. A civilian physician working for the IDF was indicted on charges of rape and sexual assault, an airman in the IAF was convicted of rape and sodomy, and a company sergeant first class in the 931st Battalion of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade was convicted of the sexual assault of female soldiers who served under his command.

Much like in the U.S., one result of the headline-grabbing news has been a sudden outpouring of personal stories. Early last month +972’s Dahlia Scheindlin, better known for her public opinion analysis, wrote a deeply angry and ultimately deeply personal column about the utterly mundane and often paralyzing reality of sexual harassment in women’s lives. After discussing just how well-known Rosen is for his skirt-chasing ways, she wrote:

In fact, I don’t know where to start writing at all. Should I begin by giving a pithy description of the fascinating social media dynamics, the frenzied debates between the genders running on Facebook forums? Should I describe the defensiveness and anger of many men?

…Should it be the tales of trauma now being shared by an appalling number and range of women, an ever-spreading stain whose blackness and girth are still deepening and spreading?

…Or should I tell my own story?… No, I never complained to the workplace and I am ashamed I wasn’t able to prevent or redress those situations, instead of what I did: stew in my humiliation and the wreckage of my self-worth, built from the ground with my own sweat and blood. Confuse my rage at him with rage at myself, for not telling him to f*ck off, or even before that: for not projecting a personality so unfathomably wonderful that he could never countenance such disrespect in the first place.

Early this month, well-known literary critic and social commentator Ariana Melamed responded to Yeshaya’s comments in a column about her own rape at the hands of a family member at age 14. In searing detail, she told of being hugged, then forced to the muddy ground, then raped, then hearing the sound of her rapist’s satisfaction. “Slowly, slowly—God alone knows how—you gather your strength and go home, bleeding, on failing legs.”

Then this past Friday, journalist Sharon Shpurer (who has been among those covering the Rosen case) wrote in Haaretz:

It was when I was 11 and a half…. One of the teachers thrust his hands under my school shirt. He touched, he fondled, he stuck his tongue in and he kissed. A few minutes of resistance and it was over. Then it happened several more times. How many exactly? I don’t remember. The 24 years that have elapsed have already blurred the small details, the memories and the feelings.

…I didn’t do anything with this. I didn’t complain to the police and I didn’t tell anyone. Life went on and I kept it inside me. I was ashamed. Why was I ashamed? I don’t know. Maybe precisely because I didn’t complain and I didn’t talk. Maybe.

Shpurer writes about how hearing the stories from Rosen’s accusers, then other stories, and finally reading Melamed’s column, “gave me strength.”

Daylight is the best disinfectant and its role is not only to disinfect the soul but also to ensure that the topic does not fall off the agenda, and that young girls and boys will know they must not be ashamed and they must not keep silent.

…We need not necessarily involve the police or the courts, which will rummage in our psyches, our sexual habits and our degree of permissiveness…. What we do need now is just to spit it out, each of us her own story. To show, quite simply, that this is a nationwide plague.

During the time that I lived in Israel I spent several years as a counselor with theTel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, and so have found myself sadly unsurprised by all of this news. Israel is a country like any country, and as in any country, 50 percent of Israelis live with the knowledge that their bodily autonomy may be violated at any given moment. One in every three Israeli women is a survivor of sexual assault.

What is surprising to me, and heartening, is that so many Israelis are talking about it. Daylight is the best disinfectant, and the sooner that Israelis and all people come to understand that sexual assault is a human rights issue of monumental proportions, the sooner all of our societies can heal from the pain we have long expected all women to simply shoulder.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

An experiment in silence breaking: Please tell a story about sexual harassment or assault.

Yesterday I wrote that the one way to gain any good out of the rolling clown car that has been the Herman Cain candidacy would be if we use this opportunity to get more honest about how frequently girls and women face harassment and/or assault.

The truth is that I don’t think most men have any idea how prevalent it is. How often our muscles tense, the kinds of calculus we must do before walking down that street or past that co-worker, the sheer reality of our very gender being used against us as a weapon. A tool of control. A platform from which to declare victory or dominance.

So I just tweeted the following:

Dear men: Please turn to a woman who loves & trusts you today & ask one question: “Have you ever been harassed?” Then just sit & listen.

But I think it would really powerful to have something to share, something like the post I did back when I asked my fellow white Americans to sit and listen to black folks’ responses to watching the President of the United States being forced by a racist huckster to show his papers.

If you have a story to tell about harassment or assault, I’m asking you to do so here (men, too). This will not be a space in which your sincerity or the truth of your story will be doubted (and should we garner any such replies, they will be ruthlessly slapped down by me), and of course, it’s the internet — you may be an anonymous as you like.

But please – let’s talk. Let’s tell the truth. Only in telling the truth will we be able to change the reality.

UPDATE:  It occurs to me to provide this information as well – For an online hotline for assault/abuse survivors, click here; telephone hotline here: 1-800-656-4673.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I’ve also started a thread for men’s stories – for that, click here.  I believe that the differences in our experiences make separate threads a good idea — a better way to honor and respect the differences in our realities — but our stories share many elements, and we are wise to not just talk among ourselves, but also to listen to each other.

On wresting good from stupid: Herman Cain, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

A very quick thought:

Herman Cain was never a serious contender for the Republican nomination. He is, in more ways than I have time to enumerate right now, a clown, and he has never been more than a shiny object by which we the people have been duly distracted.

As such, it is my humble opinion that Herman Cain’s candidacy (such as…) has done actual, objective damage to the American political system and those invested in that system (just as we have been damaged by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, though considerably less than we were damaged by Ralph Nader), because all he has served to do is distract us and suck up wildly expensive time and resources.

HOWEVER.

With the revelation of what is turning into quite a slew of accusations of sexual harassment and/or assault (“Hey, baby, you’re lookin’ gooood tonight!” [or some such] being the former; grabbing a woman’s inner thigh and pulling her head toward his crotch [the actual accusation that Sharon Bialek has leveled] being the latter) we have an opportunity to wrest some objective good out of this mountain of stupid.

Every woman I know can tell a story of harassment or assault. Every single one.

For some, this has meant being yelled at on the street; for others, horrifying tales of violence and rape. It’s a huge range between the two, and I do not mean to conflate all the various kinds of harassment and assault, but merely want to say: Sexual threat or violence, or fear of same, is a constant in the lives of all women and girls. Full stop.

So here’s what we can do: We can take this Side Show Bob act that Herman Cain has been putting on for a few months, and turn it to our advantage. We can start talking.

We need to talk, and talk, and talk — we need to tell the truth and tell our stories and face the ugliness that always comes out when we tell our truth, but keep telling it anyway.

We, men and women both, need to face the fact of men using sexual innuendo, threats, and violence as a weapon against women on a regular, daily basis. Herman Cain (if he is in fact guilty of the acts of which he is accused) is far from the first, he is not currently the only, and he will not be the last man to treat other human beings as tools by which he has the right to express his power.

Moreover, if we are more honest and open about how often grown men do this sort of thing to grown women — we may be able to be more honest and open about how often grown men do this to female children (whether paying for it and calling the rape “underage prostitution,” or not), more honest and open about how often grown men do this to male children (whether in the Catholic Church, the Penn State locker rooms, or elsewhere), and more honest and open about how often grown men do this to each other (whether in prison, at frat parties, or anywhere else).

I am very, very clear on the fact that not all men are sexual predators, and I know that some women are.

But it’s mostly men — by a hell of a longshot — and far more men do this sort of thing than we admit. Indeed, I would submit that far more men do this sort of thing than are even aware of it themselves (if she was too drunk to say no? It was rape. As but one example).

So let’s take the awful, ridiculous, embarrassing moment in American political history that is Herman Cain, and turn it into something good: Let’s take the opportunity to be honest about the daily, lived reality of sexual harassment and assault.

Then, perhaps, Herman Cain will have actually managed to do some good for the American people. In spite of himself.