Jewfem Blog

On "Resh" and predicaments of sexual harassment

This op-ed appeared in the Times of Israel on 31 Jan 2012

A woman who we know only by the Hebrew initial of her name, “Resh,” is under some intense pressure, and I do not envy her predicament.

According to a reports by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, Resh was the victim of sexual harassment by one of the leading aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Natan Eshel. The accusations are pretty serious: Eshel is said to have been obsessed with Resh, who was working directly for him, not only to the extend that he stalked her and spied on her, but even by strategically placing cameras to photograph her under her skirt. Three members of the PM’s senior staff filed complaints with Lindenstrauss – apparently unbeknownst to one another – and another four staffers have already given testimony on these events. But thus far, Resh has insisted that she does not want to testify.

Her position is understandable. The women who filed police complaints of rape against then-president Moshe Katsav – who was convicted in a ruling that has since been upheld by the Supreme Court – had their lives ruined in the process. One of the complainants, who is officially known as “Aleph” but whose identity is known to everyone in the media , had to move out of Israel because she had lost all semblance of privacy. She also continued to be harassed by Katsav’s people throughout the four-year ordeal, according to the judges in the case. And on top of everything else, she could not get another job in Israel.

This is a tragic reality for high-profile rape victims. Before the story broke, Aleph’s career was in great shape, as she was managing one of the highest offices in the country, and today she has lost it all – all because she came forth to tell the world she had been raped. So when Resh says she fears that she will become like Aleph, her fears are justified. If her identity is revealed, it will likely end her career. One day you’re working in the Prime Minister’s office, and the next you’re out of a job, perhaps permanently.

There’s more. The Aleph who moved out of the country was one of the complainants whose charges were eventually dropped from the case (the “second” Aleph, a different victim, remained on the indictment). So this poor woman went through an excruciating ordeal: After allegedly enduring rape and sexual harassment, which is traumatic in and of itself, she went through the pain of revealing her story, losing her home and career in the process. And ultimately it was for naught; she gained nothing. I will never forget what she said at her famous press conference after she learned that her case was removed from the indictment: “Women’s groups are not going to like this, but my advice to rape victims is, don’t go to the police. Get help, get therapy, do what you have to do for yourself. But don’t file a complaint. It’s not worth the price.”

Trapped in the corridors of power?

Resh has clearly taken heed. Right now, she has to choose between justice and her own well-being, between fighting to put a sex offender behind bars – or at the very least to get him removed from the PM’s office, which one might have expected Netanyahu to act on already – or fighting for her own privacy, future and personal freedom. That is a terrible position to be in, but that is the plight of women sexually attacked by men in power.

Still, there are some signs of hope for Resh. For one thing, there seem to be a lot of people in the PM’s office who are on her side. In addition, the country just finished convicting a former-president rapist, and there may be more willingness to hear her story for what it is. There may also be more sympathy among potential future employers, more openness to understanding that it was not her fault. It sounds like such a simple concept, but that is her fight. The world has to understand that sexual violence is not the victim’s fault. I do think that, thanks in part to the Katsav trial, Israeli society’s appreciation of the implications of sexual violence just may be changing.

Personally, I hope she decides to come forward, despite the potential cost. The country needs to hear her story and to continue to understand the dynamics of sexual abuse. I am certain that there are many more in her position, and maybe if she comes forward, others will join her fight as well. She may even find that some of us who thankfully are not in her harrowing position may be able to offer her some welcome support and encouragement as well.

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