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Why The IDF Must Fight Sexual Harassment

In Sexual Harrassment on June 16, 2010 at 00:52

The Two-Front War----Sexual Harassment in the IDF

OK. We Israelis are used to being harrassed by pretty much every nation in the world.  We’re even used to our Army, one of the most upstanding and moral in the world, being trashed— even, or perhaps, especially, by leaders of nations with atrocious human rights records.

But IDF brothers-in-arms sexually harassing their sisters-in-arms? No, we must never, NEVER make peace with that.  Read the article below. Sexual harrassment complaints in the IDF are at an all-time high, but fewer than half of female soldiers who report being harrassed are willing to file formal complaints.

The fact that the number of complaints is way, way up,  is not all bad. This certainly indicates increased awareness,  but let’s not jump to the conclusion that increased incidence has nothing to do with it. With numbers like these, it almost certainly does.

Moreover, read between the lines and you will see that the way these incidents are being dealt with still leaves a lot to be desired. Female soldiers who report incidents  clearly feel they are putting themselves in harm’s way. On paper, the system encourages reporting and treats sexual harrassment as a criminal offense. But behind the scenes, the system and the female soldiers who serve it share a common agenda. Like the parents in the Bill Cosby comedy routine, they are not so much interested in justice as they are in quiet.

There is a way to get both “quiet” and “justice”. It is called PREVENTION.  And I’m not talking about scolding and lecturing male soldiers, as if scolding 18 year-old boys gets them to change their behavior. I have one at home; I know all about it. And I’m not talking about handing Tear Gas spray out to female soldiers as if it were hairspray. (Tell me, Generals, what other weapons do you have in your arsenal that you hand out to soldiers with no training and no hand-to-hand backup plan? )

Bottom Line: Why aren’t these women receiving empowerment-based self-defense training?

What makes the IDF so special is that it is us. It is a reflection of our society. Can you imagine what kind of society we could foster if we invested in the thousands of young men and women going through compulsary military service so, when they re-enter civilian life, they already know that women will not tolerate sexual harassment? That they will stand up for themselves and call the perpetrators to account for it?

Look at the statistics about working women in Israel. 50% report being sexually harassed in the workplace. 50%!!!! And do you know where most of those women were just before they entered the workforce? That’s right. They were in the military.

How many stories like those below might have turned out differently if these women learned Awareness, Avoidance, Assertiveness, Physical Defense and Recovery skills as part of their Military Service? Two-years of service and they can’t squeeze in 10-hour for a Basic Empowerment-based Self-Defense Course? Come on…

I wrote to Chairman of the Knesset Committee for the Promotion of Women’s Status  Tzipi Hotovely MK (Likud) some time ago asking for a chance to speak with her about this issue. Good thing I didn’t hold my breath waiting to hear back from her.

For her part in the proceedings, MK Hotovely said: “Unfortunately, harassment has not left the world and some men feel entitled. Maybe we should think about an alternative softer track, that will enable us to work around the psychological constraints involved in serving a complaint.”

MK Hotovely, you may be right. Perhaps a “decriminalized” procedure would help. On the other hand, how about removing some of those ‘psychological constaints’ by empowering these women BEFORE incidents occur so they can STOP them? Give them the tools they need to stand up for themselves and for each other! I would expect that you, of all of our nation’s legislators, would be on the frontlines fighting for just that.

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Major Increase in Complaints of Sexual Harassment in the IDF

A day of consciousness-raising came to the Knesset: Data presented by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, indicated that over the last two years the number of complaints rose by tens of percentage points . The Immigrant Absorption Committee heard sad stories of immigrant women: “The manager harassed me – and I was dependent on him”

Yael Bernovsky
YNET
June 8, 2010

Translated by Yours Truly

Today, the Knesset held a special day to increase awareness of sexual harassment, and all the committees held hearings on the subject. This came after yesterday’s report on Ynet revealing alarming data, according to which nearly half of working women experience sexual harassment in their workplaces. Additional data published today, indicated that the scope of the phenomenon in the IDF has risen sharply.

According to the data presented by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Israel Defense Forces in 2009 reported 445 complaints of sexual harassment, compared to 363 in 2008 and 318 in 2007. Most of the reported incidents occurred in the bases, and most involved physical harassment. About 28 percent involved verbal harassment and 13 percent voyeurism. Three-percent of the percentage involved rape or attempted rape. Another one percent of the complaints involved consensual sexual relations.

IDF officials explained that there are two options for dealing with complaints – either an officer checks out the allegations or the Military Police are called in for a criminal investigation. Only 47 percent of female soldiers who complained in 2009 chose to contact the Military Police. Another 12 percent of female soldiers sought help within their units.

According to Brigadier General Gila Kalifi, Women’s Affairs advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in 2009 only one false complaint of sexual harassment was discovered. However, she said that “we do not only see the need to commit ourselves to dealing with those who claim sexualharassment. We are also committed that, until proven guilty, the person against whom a complaint is made must be considered innocent.”

“We have already learned that it is important to ask the IDF, not only about military intelligence but, there are more questions to ask, about sexual assault, about suicide… Social issues,” concluded Committee Chairman MK Tzachi Hanegbi. “are part of the experience of life of this organization that must undergo parliamentary supervision. Everyone goes away with the feeling that, on the one hand, there is much to praise in the system, but there is a problem. I hope it is being kept in mind by the IDF, our country’s largest organization, that there must be a greater sense of confidence and understanding that the system will protect those submitting complaints. ”

Former Defense Minister Knesset Member Amir Peretz (Labor) added that “our expectation from the IDF is they will become one of the most important models for other workplaces to emulate . Israeli society makes judgments about women who file these kind of complaints. When the this same soldier must return to the same community where she lives, there are serious concerns about this. They must proceed with caution, but they also must develop more tools that allow these matters to be dealt with without placing the woman on the frontlines of the war. Even if the soldier has chosen treatment futher down in the hierarchy, the matter must go higher up in the hierarchy in order to maximize the punishment. The Army must provide security for female soldiers, that no one in the hierarchy, no matter what his rank, has too much authority. ”

“Didn’t they teach you in Ethiopia not say “no” to a man?”

The Absorption Committee headed by MK Lia Shemtov held a discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace that included presentations by women victimized by the phenomenon.

One of them, an economist that came from Ukraine a few years ago and still learning the language, said that she managed to get work in a clothing warehouse as a folder. “I had to leave work even though it suited me. The reason: my manager’s behavior. For a period of two months, he harassed me, took advantage of his authority, because I was financially dependent on the work. He also attempted to rape me and commit indecent acts. I went to the Rape Crisis Center. I did not want people to know – and this is one of the reasons that I did not go to the police. I’m really depressed because of what happened. ”

Another woman, a 24 year-old Amharic-speaker, went to  the Rape Crisis Center to accompany a friend. She talked about things she was accustomed to living with: “I was out of work and my neighbors were looking for a babysitter. It started with words: “I’m used to white Israelis.”, ” Didn’t you learn in Ethiopia not say ‘no’ to a man?’,’Your chest is the color of mocha’.

The neighbor started to harass me, push himself against me while talking to me. After a month, I left my job. ”

Michal Rosen, the CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, mentioned that the bill for providing compensation for victims of sexual assault drafted by a interdepartmental committee last year and presented to the Welfare Department (details published in Ynet) “still lies in the hands of the Minister. Nothing has been done about it. ”

MK Marina Solodkin concluded: “the former President (Translator’s note: Former President Moshe Katsav whose trial for rape and sexual harassment is being held in extreme secrecy) was a master of sexual harassment. This procedure is very important and it will set a precedent if the judge convicts him. I am optimistic”.

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  1. If it hurts their pocket, maybe they’ll think twice about starting up with female IDF soldiers. Women in civilian life who sued and though most are settled out of court, they’ve gotten some good money. The problem is the woman is generally out of the company by then, and the offender stays in his position.

    I fervently hope that the court will throw the book at Katzir, and hard. But will it make a difference?

    Silence is our enemy. If you don’t speak out, nothing will happen.

    • I think you make a very good point here. In an Army in which soldiers are penalized for hundreds of shekels for being caught in public with their shirts untucked or their shoelaces untied, immediate financial consequences for inappropriate behavior towards a fellow soldier might also have deterrence value.

      As for Katzir, it’s really quite troubling to have the whole thing shrouded in secrecy, isn’t it? I hope, in the end, that justice will be served… for a change.

      Speaking out is hard for the “victims” if we allow them to become isolated. If we remember that all of us are victimized— men and women— when ANY of us are, and if we learn to stand up WITH them, perhaps that will change. Like most things, the change begins with each of us.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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