In 1988 a law for the prevention of sexual harassment was passed to protect a person’s dignity, liberty and privacy and in order to promote gender equality.
According to one theory, sexual harassment is the result of a male dominated patriarchal system that allows a man to exercise his power sexually and to take advantage of his dominance – for example a boss harassing his employee in the workplace.
In contrast, the legal and social understanding of sexual harassment varies between different cultures and societies and even changes over time.
In Israel, similarly to other countries, sexual harassment is a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment and therefore the procedure in such cases is to first file a complaint against your harasser with the police and to then have that complaint dealt with within the framework of the legal system.
It is however estimated that the official statistics that are based on actual complaints filed with the police are far from a true reflection of the real extent of sexual harassment.
With regards to the question of the statute of limitations in cases of sexual harassment as to criminal proceedings, a distinction must be made between the different types of punishments listed under the law.
The act for the prevention of sexual harassment allows for both criminal proceedings and civil proceedings.
At the time of the passing of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (1988) and up until 2012, the statute of limitations regarding sexual harassment in criminal proceedings was only three years!!! The limitation for civil proceedings was seven years.
An amendment was made to the legislation in 2007 regarding minors that had suffered from sexual assault or harassment. This amendment extended the statute of limitations by an additional 10 years in the following situations:
(1) Sexual assault was committed on the victim as a minor;
(2) The victim was abused as a minor by a family member or a person that was responsible for them;
(3) The victim of the sexual assault was a young adult under the age of 21 in cases where the abuser took advantage of a position of trust, dependence, care or authority or by a family member.
This means that the time limit of seven-years according to the statute of limitations will only start being counted from the age of 28 and not from the age of 18 as in other limitations. Therefore, the statute of limitations will not apply until the age of 35 in such cases.
Another amendment made to the law in 2012 stipulated that the statute of limitations regarding cases of sexual harassment in criminal proceedings will be like that in civil proceedings. This raised the statute of limitations in criminal proceedings against sexual harassment from 3 to 7 years.
What is causing more and more victims of sexual harassment to finally come forward today about harassments that they suffered years ago?
Unfortunately, many of these revelations will not end up leading to charges being pressed and will remain on the most part forever unresolved.
Each victim has their own unique story and reason for sharing all these years after the attacks occurred.
In my humble opinion, the victims of sexual harassment are finally finding the strength to come forward and share their stories after all these years of hiding what happened as the result of society in general becoming more open and willing to communicate freely about such cases.
Victims are finally finding the strength to tell their stories and to share their experiences. Hopefully this will help them recieve some closure and relieve them from their heavy burden of keeping their abuse secret.
Through the media we often hear about unpunished offenders that have gone on to positions of fame, command or political success.
A quote that I read only today from a victim of sexual harassment that has only very recently decided to share his story highlights this exact point - “I know the truth, he knows the truth and the polygraph also shows the truth. This outing wasn’t done for revenge, fame or a wish to cause harm. The opposite is true. It was done for me, to release this chapter in my life and to start a new and better chapter. If you were a victim of such an event, then let yourselves talk about it without fear. Tell your truth”.
We are witnessing the greatest change in the ultra-Orthodox community where victims previously felt ashamed to come forward with their stories. Today the support from within their communities has helped victims finally tell their stories without fear of repercussion or that their community will hold it against them.