JERUSALEM (AP) — Roughly one in four women performing compulsory national service in Israel’s police force and prison service have suffered sexual abuse on the job, according to a report by Israel’s official government watchdog agency.
The findings by the State Comptroller indicate that a problem that has long plagued Israel’s security forces appears to be getting worse, despite numerous campaigns over the years to protect female conscripts from male colleagues, commanders and even prisoners.
“Our report is ‘Me Too’ to the Israeli prison service and the police," the report said.
The investigation was prompted by Israeli media reports last year that found female prison guards were sexually abused by Palestinian security prisoners while their superiors turned a blind eye to the practice in an effort to maintain quiet in the facilities.
The report said the case was just “the tip of the iceberg” — finding a range of abuses from verbal harassment to assault and rape.
Female conscripts “are exposed to harassment both from security prisoners and permanent officers, taking advantage of their weakness,” it said.
The report also found that released prisoners continue to harass their victims on social media. Some of the guards said they received no help from their commanders when they reported the abuse.
Keren Barak, a lawyer who represents some of the guards who were allegedly assaulted by prisoners, told Israel’s Army radio station that even she was surprised by the extent of the problem. “It really is an earthquake,” she said.
Military service is compulsory for many Jewish Israelis, with women typically serving two years. While most soldiers serve in the army, some do their service in the police, paramilitary border police or with the prison service. In compiling the report, the comptroller's office spoke to 150 people in active service, and surveyed 13,000 soldiers and former soldiers.
The Israeli military said it has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and that it conducts audits in the prison service every two months to ensure that female soldiers are treated properly.
The prison service said it has already launched several initiatives to address the problems but that "there is no doubt that the findings of the State Comptroller’s report indicate there is still work ahead of us.” The report was released Monday.
The police said “any report of suspected sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior is thoroughly examined and treated accordingly” and that it will continue to promote a “safe work environment."