Stop delegitimizing the rape victim

Judaism considers rape equivalent to murder as it slaughters the victim's soul. Op-ed.

Rachel Avraham ,

Protester at demonstration Thursday following alleged gang rape
Protester at demonstration Thursday following alleged gang rape
Tomer Neuberg/flash90

Like the rest of the State of Israel, I was shocked to see the recent reports of a 16-year-old girl who was gang raped by dozens of men in the city of Eilat. Like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I believe that this is a “crime against humanity” that should be condemned throughout Israeli society and that the perpetrators should be held accountable. However, what shocked me just as much as the fact that this happened in our beautiful country was how some, albeit not many, elements of Israeli society reacted to this reported brutal gang rape.

Some of the reactions on social media to the reported gang-rape have been downright despicable. As if suffering a brutal gang rape were not enough of a trauma, the girl's name was somehow made public and dozens of threats were published against her online. This, resulted in the victim requiring increased police protection and this has made her a virtual prisoner in her own home, an additional trauma that was added on top of her pre-existing one.

Others on social media made comments that struck me as outrageous. One Israeli male political strategist and PHD candidate, who has published in numerous Israeli media outlets, argued in a Facebook post about the child rape victim that if she had been a 20-year-old, she would have been just as much to blame for the fact that she was drunk and that it would not have been rape: “Women should be treated exactly the way men are in terms of respecting the ability to make decisions for themselves. If a man is to blame for what he does while drunk (fighting, driving, raping), then so too is a woman.” But she wasn't. She was a minor.

When I disagreed with him on this for such a girl is clearly too drunk to make any kind of rational decisions related to the issue, he called me a “religious misogynist” and proclaimed: “It is religious sexist idiocy to invariably see women as vulnerable, easily duped victims.” He had nothing to say to the fact that both American and British law mandate that a woman of any age must have the “capacity” to give consent for the act not to be considered rape, and that neither has anything to do with Orthodox Judaism. This is especially the case when we are talking about dozens of random men lined up outside a hotel room to sleep with the same drunk girl on the same night.

This political strategist was not alone. Others said everyone was to blame, including the girl for she made the irresponsible decision to get drunk, thus setting her up to be “the perfect victim.” This is classic blame the victim mentality. Just because a girl got drunk, deplorable in itself, does not mean that she is to blame for getting raped. This same person acknowledged later that the victim was not to blame, but how could people say anything critical of the victim at such a delicate time, after a brutal gang rape was reported?

It is true that there were many more Israelis who condemned what happened on social media and there was even a massive demonstration with thousands of participants who marched against this brutal gang rape. Israeli civil society and the political establishment have unanimously supported the gang rape victim, and this is important. Nevertheless, the very fact that there are some within Israeli society who would initially cast blame on the girl or claim that a long line of men taking advantage of a drunk woman would not have been gang rape so long as she said yes under the influence of alcohol and was a bit older does cast a dark shadow, especially when anti-religious bigotry is added to the equation.

Tthe Israeli media systematically referred to the Eilat gang rape as “alleged.” By saying “alleged”, these journalists cast doubt into the mind of the reader whether an actual gang rape occurred, thus delegitimizing the victim. In fairness to the Israeli media, some may argue that Israeli media outlets say “alleged” or “suspected” in such instances merely because the matter has not been confirmed yet in a court of law and they want to play it safe. No Israeli media outlet wants to face a libel lawsuit. However, it is possible to say “report” or utilize quotation marks instead of saying “alleged,” especially if no names are mentioned in the news article.

Some news articles published in Israel had details that made one question whether it was rape, claiming that the girl invited up to 30 men into her hotel room one by one, even though it is clear that the girl was a minor and was intoxicated, bereft of the mental capability to give consent. The fact that it was gang rape is beyond a shred of doubt. As Metiv, the Israel Psychotrauma Center, explains referring to rape: “Force refers not only to the physical force but also to abuse of status or taking advantage of a situation when the victim cannot make a lucid decision, such as following the use of alcohol and drugs.” Therefore, including such details and terminology in news articles when the victim was an intoxicated minor do nothing more than give legitimacy to the men who did this to her.

As Eric Rozenman, former Washington, DC director of CAMERA, stated in an interview I did for Women and Jihad, “George Orwell wrote a famous essay on Politics and the English Language toward the end of which he spoke about how sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking. Orwell said that the political choice of words in the end is used to make murder acceptable and that is why it is so important” to care about word usage. The same argument that Rozenman made in relation to how foreign media outlets cover Palestinian terror attacks can also be utilized when discussing media coverage of gang rapes.

Of course, there is a psychological reason why some Israelis have reacted this way to this brutal reported gang rape. Joyanna Silberg and Stephanie Dallam wrote in an essay titled “Out of the Jewish Closet: Facing the Hidden Secrets of Child Sex Abuse and the Damage Done to its victims,” which was published in Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, “There is almost a physical disgust and revulsion many people feel when the topic of child sexual abuse is raised. People do not want to even think that such a crime is possible. Even if we accept that the problem exists, we do not want to believe that it could be present in our own community. Acknowledging that normal-appearing individuals of high status would abuse a minor shatters our image of our community as a source of civility and safety. The efforts of the backlash movement to promote misinformation have facilitated the defensive denial many use to protect themselves from a reality too painful to see.”

For this reason, in the eyes of some, the victim cannot be entirely innocent. This gang rape incident must be “alleged” and not “actual.” In some cases, the trauma causes the victim to blank out and to get some details messed up, and this further reinforces the beliefs of those who seek to deny the victims legitimacy. If the girl had the misfortunate of being drunk during the time of the rape, society reacts to her even less sympathetically than if she was sober at the time of the crime. However, it does not need to be like this.

As I wrote in Emerging from the Depths of Despair: A Memoir on Rising Above the Trauma of Childhood Rape, which I am in the final stages of editing, “Rape, like terrorism, is all about obtaining power, dominance, and control over the victims, thus prompting them to feel helpless and weak. Judaism considers rape to be equivalent to murder for the very nature of that crime is that it literally slaughters the soul of the female victim.”

Just as Israeli society systematically supports all victims of terror attacks, the time has come for all Israeli society to stand in solidarity with the Eilat gang rape victim. Our condemnation of the perpetrators has to be separated from the fact that she was inebriated. Those that delegitimize her voice do not represent most of Israeli society.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”