May Fatal is a young soldier who was sexually harassed and perhaps stalked by her superior in the army. That’s nothing new. Sexual harassment in the IDF has been a dirty, loosely kept secret for decades, known to most women and plenty of men in Israel.
Few women ever go public with their experience, and even fewer do so with their own identity.
Last year, Fatal submitted a complaint against her commander Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi, a battalion commander in the Givati combat brigade, within the army system. The case made the press but she remained anonymous. In December, military prosecutors reached a plea bargain with Hajbi: he was removed from IDF service, but avoided criminal charges in a civilian court.
Last week Fatal broke her anonymity by protesting the plea bargain in an impassioned Facebook post. In so doing she became one of the few victims of sexual harassment to reveal herself publicly, rejecting the single initial and pixelated face commonly used to protect anonymity. Many have come to feel that hiding one’s name and blotting out faces on TV conveys that the woman has been shamed and strips her of her identity, making it harder for the public to relate to her.
Fatal’s post generated a series of headlines, analyses and further developments. She was attacked online for having photos of herself in a bathing suit on Facebook, supposed proof of her temptress character. MK Shelly Yachimovich wrote a lengthy response arguing for Fatal — and every woman’s — right to both wear a bathing suit and not be harassed.
Over the weekend, Gili Cohen wrote in Haaretz about a trend of women revealing their own experiences of harassment in the army, on Facebook and elsewhere, and what it means. The article asks for the umpteenth time what happens when a woman steps forward and complains. Why don’t more women do so? Is the pain worth the price? If more women do it, will the process become less intimidating? This question is becoming central to the debate. A survey published Sunday shows that 98 percent of those who have experienced harassment do not report it to the police.
Cohen quotes Rachel Tevet-Weisel, the Israeli army’s “advisor to the Chief of Staff on women’s issues,” saying she encourages women to step up and speak out. But the advisor’s also had some thoughts about how sexual harassment can be avoided (my translation):