"I Didn't Scream Because You Didn't Teach Me How"
There is hardly any funding allocated to sexual violence prevention in educational institutions and work environments. A senior advisor in one NGO stated, “There is no governmental support and contributors prefer to distribute tablets to people with disabilities.”
It was midnight on Arlozorov Street in Tel Aviv, and the street was empty. Rachel and her friends walked towards the bus stop. Due to construction, they had to jump over a fence and walk through a narrow dark part of the sidewalk. Suddenly, a voice called out to them.
They ignored it, but the voice kept getting stronger and the person whose voice it was made what he wanted to do to them and to their bodies very clear. "I can't even repeat what he said because it was so disgusting,” Rachel stated, "but his intentions were very clear."
They started to increase their pace, but the man, who had a bag with a bottle of alcohol in it, was faster. They arrived at the bus stop and there was nowhere else for them to continue. The man that was getting closer continued to yell, untying and pulling down his pants.
Rachel realized this was the time to do something: "I looked at him and yelled with all my strength, 'Leave. US. Alone!! GO. AWAY!!!’" He continued to come closer, Rachel continues, but her continued screams alerted someone across the street who came and stayed with them until the man left.
"From the basic details and how it ended, it doesn't sound like it was that bad." Rachel says. "But this man was really drunk and drugged and I told myself I would not be leaving with another #MeToo story. I know that because I wasn't scared I managed to stop the situation before it got to an awful place. My friend hasn’t stopped thinking about what could have happened if I hadn't been there and hadn't reacted that way.
The only reason Rachel knew how to scream with all of her strength at the right moment and not to freeze or try to run away, like most of us would have done as a result of our instincts, is because the first thing you learn in “IMPACT," an empowerment self-defense course at El HaLev, is to yell and stop a situation with using only your voice. It's hard to imagine how many instances of violence and harassment have been, will be, and could be prevented with this often underestimated tool.
You would think that this non-profit organization in Jerusalem, that teaches hundreds of women a year through their empowerment self-defense courses and works to prevent sexual violence in all sectors of the population, would receive the necessary institutional assistance in order to expand its activities.
However, the Support Committee of the Jerusalem Municipality just rejected their request for assistance for the following reason: the majority of El HaLev's activities focus on sexual violence prevention and therefore does not match the criteria of the committee. The committee is responsible for granting economic assistance to NGO's that deal with victims of sexual assault or sexual violence only.
The Measured Amount of Violence Holds Steady
"I am familiar with their activities and it seemed strange" Elad Malka, a member of the Support Committee and Hitorrarut [a progressive political party], stated. ”I approached the organization and received documents explaining their activities and the report backing their model from the European Union. I understood that the reason their request was denied was because the committee's criteria uses the word "victims" of sexual assault only."
The sum we are discussing is trivial in terms of the budget for the municipality of a city as large as Jerusalem. About 300,000 NIS is distributed among a total of four NGO's that rehabilitate victims of sexual assault. However it is a significant amount for activities of a medium-sized NGO (with an annual budget of 3 million NIS) especially when it translates to hundreds of women who could be walking around feeling safer and more confident in their surroundings.
Malka, together with a few other council members, intend to alter the criteria for the year 2019 at the convening of the committee in August. "The goal is to set appropriate criteria that will allow NGO's who focus on prevention to qualify for the list of supported organizations." The Municipality of Jerusalem states that the option is being explored at the moment and will reach a conclusion for 2019.
The disqualification of El HaLev is an indication of a common approach of organizations and institutions that focus on identifying and treatment after the damage has been done instead of creating a safer environment and focusing on education and prevention. Malka stated: "When it comes to proposing bills in the Knesset and informative content, everyone discusses victims of sexual assault and not prevention."
"Treatment of victims is extremely important, but the change isn't happening,” says Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman, the CEO of El HaLev who has been active for 15 years as a representative of an international movement for empowerment self-defense; “The Van Leer Institute's index on inequality and violence was presented to the Committee for Gender Equality and proved once again that there had been no significant change. Not the Jerusalem Municipality, not the government and not any other organization marks a day for violence prevention. The month marking the struggle of violence against women always focuses on recognizing violence and treatment for the victims. If you could tell me that treatment of victims alone would fix the problem, I would accept that, but the statistics indicate otherwise."
They Prefer to Donate Tablets
"Latait Peh," and organization that deals with sexual violence prevention towards children via workshops with parents, also faces multiple barriers on a daily basis due to this approach that ignores prevention strategy. "No one from the government is calling for a new approach that would include prevention,” says Shnear Walker, Content Manager of the NGO. "I spoke to the Ministry of Welfare and the topic keeps falling through the cracks.
In addition, even business entities are less interested to contribute to NGO's that focus on prevention because they don't want to be associated with the issue of sexual assault. This is mainly because they want to be associated to more positive subjects, such as tablets for people with special needs. Contributions to rehabilitation centers is seen in a more positive light.
One of the difficulties, Walker claims, is marketing programs for violence prevention, in addition to the issue of the Ministry of Education. In the United States, he continues, there is a law that requires schools to teach sexual violence prevention education. "We tried to approach the schools, but there are no programs and there is no budget allocated to teaching prevention. The topic falls between the cracks in the Ministry of Education and Welfare. They don't understand that investing in prevention is essentially saving the country a huge sum of money, because it decreases the cost and investment of rehabilitation. 90% of the time, teens who were sexual predators and receive proper assistance will not attack again. When it comes to adults, it doesn't work like that. There are behavioral patterns that are extremely difficult to change. In terms of the state, it is a worthwhile investment."
In addition, Shlomit Hebron, the CEO of a social initiative for sexual education called "Reliable Information about Sex,” encounters the issue of all available resources being invested in places where the damage has already been done. "Gender education and teaching consensual physical touch from a young age in an embedded manner significantly decreases the number of sexual assaults." She goes on to say, "Will this ever happen? Apparently not… the Ministry of Education deals with prevention in classes for life skills and there is an existing curriculum on the topic of education and sexual abuse. The discussion exists but there is no allocated budget for it, not in front and not in back."
The Association of Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault, that deals with both prevention and rehabilitation, conducts hundreds of workshops a year in schools on the topic of prevention, but in the words of Orit Sulitzeanu, the CEO of the association, they are dependent on the personal will and an invitation from a teacher, parent or principle who is aware of the topic and/or has already dealt with crises.
"The programs are not mandatory and there are those who choose not to have them and those who choose to have them." Sulitzeanu says, "The Ministry of Education has regular programs on the topic of treatment, but home safety, where early detection and treatment significantly minimizes damage, is not included in the scope of their activities. The Ministry of Education doesn't understand that this is a widespread phenomenon."
Statistics indicate that one in six children is sexually abused at home. According to Sulitzeanu, "The current school programs depend on and are supervised by the counselors who have a million other topics to cover. Every child in the education system needs to learn sexual caution the same way we learn to cross the street as a child."
The Ministry of Education had this resopnse: "The ministry attaches great importance to sexual education for youth. Life skills programs are meant for all students enabled in every stage of education and include social and emotional developmental issues for different ages. In terms of sexuality and prevention, various lessons have been developed for different ages and they include a wide array of subjects: relations between the sexes, sexual development, body image, sexual violence prevention, non-violent relationships, protecting your body, consensual touch, distributing photos on the internet…etc.
"The Ministry of Education trains educational counselors on the subject, and encourages open and relevant discussion with children and youth. The program is suitable for different sectors: Ultra-Orthodox, the Arab sector, National Religious…etc. However, it is difficult to have an open discussion on the subject in different communities and therefore the Ministry of Education invests in adapting materials, training and supervision of counselors, which is a process that allows more and more schools to have an open educational discussion on this topic." Standard for the Prevention of Harassment.
It's unthinkable that work places, many of which do not provide a safe and pleasant working environment for workers (female workers, in particular), invest even less in prevention, not only to physically protect themselves but also to protect their image.
According to a study done in 2012 by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Association of Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault found that 40% of female employees reported being sexually harassed in their work place and 11% were harassed the year prior to the survey. The Association of Centers for Victims found that one out of three women who called reported sexual harassment in the work place. The facts point to the problem of sexual insecurity that male and female workers experience in the place where they spend most of their time. "From our experience with private and public profit organizations in Israel, the majority of large companies do not have programs for violence prevention." Sulitzeanu says, "They make do with appointing a supervisor to inform workers about the law. These profit organizations don't understand that sexual assault comes at great cost and financial consequence to the organization, it hurts the level of morale and professional results.
"We still see the infamous phenomenon of victim blaming in the public sphere, especially in professional environments that are managed by men and have primitive views. The younger generation and newer CEO's are starting to understand the need for prevention and there are international organizations that invest in it. But those organizations are in the minority and there are many organizations where the change is just not happening. It doesn't take a large sum of money, just a large amount of awareness.
The Association for Crisis Centers, together with the Institution for Standards and funded by the Ministry of Economy, developed a standard mark for sexual harassment prevention called "The Voluntary Code for Preventing Sexual Harassment.” This particular code elaborates on the law and translates it into practical actions and conditions that organizations are required to meet. Among the requirements is training an appointee on sexual harassment prevention, managing any complaints, frequent training of employees, annually conducting a survey of the management staff…etc.
An organization that receives this mark is required to renew it every two years. Sulitzeanu explains, “The goal is for prevention to be incorporated into the organizational system, and to not become dependent on the CEO's feelings." Sulitzeanu continues, "Every organization should qualify for this mark the same way they obtain the mark for caring for the environment, Kashrut or safety. This is a mark for human lives."
Up until now, we have approached only a few organizations where the process was approved, one of which is a hi-tech company. The Municipality of Ra'anana is the first city to be certified with the mark in 2017 and the Municipality of Be'er Sheva is in the process as we speak.
Miri Newman, the commissioner for sexual harassment in Ra'anana, describes the bureaucratic process as long and tedious and is likely to pose a challenge for organizations with limited resources. "The institution goes over the list of all the employees under my authority to make sure they all receive the necessary guidance, including the lifeguard we have for an hour, the sport teacher at the school, security guards because they are contract workers, all the way until the worker in the park with special needs asking how we submitted his rules of procedure."
"We have an index to assess risk management and we are aware of locations that demand more attention and awareness of danger such as sport and dance facilities. There is an ongoing organizational commitment. We are always conducting strict external inspections which require extra money, resources and time but it is essential in our eyes. We know how detrimental it can be to work in an unpleasant environment where you don't feel comfortable because of looks or comments and this happens in all sorts of workplaces. Our saying is: ‘Not in our school!’"
Newman claims that she did not encounter any opposition from the municipalities to implement the standard mark. However, without a law that requires organizations and municipalities to allocate resources and focus on the issue of prevention, the implementation is solely reliant on the will of the people who run the system.
In reality, not all municipalities have a commissioner for sexual harassment, when it's difficult to convince a domain like Jerusalem to even allocate a budget for education on prevention, it will be even harder to convince municipalities to take it upon themselves to obtain the standard mark.
This article first appeared in “HaMakom HaChi Cham B’Gehenom” on 31.07.2018.
📷 Photos courtesy of El HaLev