JERUSALEM: Allegations of a horrific hotel gang-rape in Israel where 30 men reportedly waited in line to assault a teenage girl have triggered an outraged campaign echoing the global #MeToo movement.
The extreme barbarity of the reported attack in Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat has prompted women to come forward to share their testimonies of sexual assault.
The “More Than 30” campaign urges people to show that sexual abuse is far more widespread than one outrageous case, to tell “the decision-makers that the problem of our society is not just about 30 rapists,” organisers say.
“Every woman knows that there are more than 30 rapists in the country,” said the Mitsad Hanashim — Women’s March — group on its Facebook page.
It urges victims of sexual violence to list on social media the first names of their attackers, as well as their age at the time they were assaulted.
“There is data on violence against women, but it is now time to link the statistics with names,” the group said, writing in both Hebrew and Arabic, Israel’s second language.
Victims of attacks provide short but shocking descriptions.
“Yonathan, when I was 17; a taxi driver at 20; or even Dad when I was five”, said Ruty Klein, one of initiators of the campaign, reading out a sample of some of the brief but brutal messages.
Campaigners hope that the testimonies will show the scale and impact of sexual attacks.
“We will give this long list to the government,” said 29-year-old Klein.
“We will ask it to accept the demands of women’s associations to change policy in the face of violence,” she added.
The alleged gang-rape earlier this month of a 16-year-old girl in the seaside town of Eilat had initially gone unnoticed.
Then on August 20, local media reported that the alleged perpetrators, said to be in their 20s, had queued outside the teenager’s hotel bedroom, awaiting their turn to rape her.
The same evening, protests broke out in several Israeli cities.
Last Sunday, thousands of Israelis went on strike, holding a symbolic hour-long work stoppage to protest “the growing violence against women and girls in Israel, and lack of sufficient punishment,” organisers said.
“It is shocking – there is no other word,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“It is not only a crime against the girl, it is a crime against humanity itself that deserves all condemnation – and those responsible must be brought to justice.”
In less than a week, the “More Than 30” campaign — or “Yoter mi shloshim” in Hebrew — has collected more than a thousand testimonials, said Klein.
“The shock of the gang-rape in Eilat reminded us that we are all together in the same boat,” she said.
“From the moment you no longer feel alone, you begin to speak. Then another is added, and then another.”
The list of testimonies “continues to grow”, she added.
The protests feed into a wider movement resulting in an “awakening of conscience” in Israel, said Ilana Weizman, who co-founded the women’s rights group HaStickeriot.
Weizman said it was inspired by “Les Colleuses”, feminist campaigners in France who daubed streets with the names of the men who had attacked them, and painted slogans denouncing the “culture of rape”.
For the past two months, Israeli campaigners have been posting feminist slogans on the walls of cities across the country.
“Lo ze lo (no means no)”, and “at lo levad (you are not alone)”, they read.
“A lot of women come and tell us that they want to write their testimony — with the name of their rapist,” Weizman said.
“That would have been unthinkable a few years ago.”
But while the shock at the reports from Eilat can act as a “catalyst”, Weizman warns it is important not to forget that sexual assault is taking place every day, in homes and in families, hidden from view.
According to The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, police estimate the number of women assaulted each year in the country at 84,000, or 230 per day.
“One in five women will be raped in her lifetime in Israel, and one in three women will be sexually assaulted,” Weizman said.
“Sexual violence affects all women.”