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Outrage and protests over gang rape of teenager in Israel

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A person holds up a sign that reads '30 men queued to rape a girl' in Tel Aviv protests on August 20, 2020 to condemn the gang rape of a teenage girl in a hotel room.

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets across the occupied territories to denounce the alleged gang rape of a teenager in the Red Sea resort of Eilat amid reports of rising sexual assault cases in Israel.

Angry protesters gathered in several cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem al-Quds, on Thursday, after media described how 30 men in their 20s queued outside the minor girl's hotel bedroom awaiting their turn to take advantage of her intoxicated condition.

The alleged crime reportedly took place on August 12 and the news of the attack broke out late Wednesday.

The teenager had first reported the crime to police in Eilat last week but the case had previously gone largely unnoticed.

Israeli police said two suspects had been arrested in connection with the incident.

According to the Israeli media, the two suspects in custody were both residents of Hadera, a northern coastal city, and both with criminal records from previous felonies.

On Friday, dozens of Hadera residents gathered to protest the rape.

Ilana Weizman of women’s rights group HaStickeriot said one in five Israeli women were sexually assaulted during their lifetime with 260 cases reported every day.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Shani Moran, said on Friday her client was “not doing well.”

“There is no doubt the people involved knew she was a minor,” she told public broadcaster Kan, noting the event was most likely filmed by the perpetrators.

Orit Sulitzeanu, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said the number of attackers was horrifying but beside the point.

“It’s a bigger issue,” she said. “Gang rape is just a manifestation of something very bad going on here,” calling it part of a “rotten culture.”

The association’s hotlines have been receiving an average of 250 calls from victims of gang rape each year since they started keeping count in 2014, 55 percent of them from teenagers.

In 2018, the group received 192 such calls, its records show.

Sulitzeanu said that many victims decline to file police reports out of shame and stigma, but that a greater deterrent was the slim chance of an attacker being brought to justice: Nine out of 10 rapists go unpunished, and 84 percent of rape cases are closed without being prosecuted.

She said that overcrowded courts have forced prosecutors to pursue only the most surefire criminal charges, adding, “They want to be positive they’ll win or they close the file.”

In one recent case, an 11-year-old girl said she was sexually assaulted by several older boys last year, and the attack was captured on video, but prosecutors recently closed the case after failing to determine who had made the video.

Sexual assault cases are on the rise in Israel in general, according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, with the number of complaints to the police climbing 15 percent from 2013 to 2018, and the number of calls to the group’s hotlines up 40 percent in the period.

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