Opinion: #MeToo in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox World


November 24, 2017

By Esti Shoshan

Sharing these stories of rape and sexual molestation in Haredi circles is to help all the other victims, so that they know they are not alone or to blame

“The guy who attacked me sexually a number of times when I was 11 years old is a married ultra-Orthodox man. I was dressed with extreme modesty. After my bat mitzvah I visited them on Shabbat, and he asked his wife to go to bed and leave me with him. She shouted, ‘She’s a bat mitzvah! You can’t touch her anymore!’

“And why is it impossible to tell and to complain? Ninth-grade girls in a Bais Yaakov school can answer that. The homeroom teacher told them about a student who was attacked in the street and stayed home for a few days to recover. She went to visit her and told her, ‘It’s your fault!’ The student defended herself, after all she observes all the rules and wears very thick stockings. The teacher answered her, ‘Yes, but there’s something about you!’”

That’s what Racheli Bass, a married ultra-Orthodox woman and mother of three who provides emotional therapy and assistance to victims of sexual assault, writes me.

Not everyone is as courageous as Racheli, who agreed to reveal her horrible story. Women I turned to, who I knew had been attacked, said that it’s better to keep quiet, that they aren’t emotionally prepared for exposure. But here are a few real stories and statements – in some the identifying details have been changed at the request of the victims to preserve their safety and privacy – in response to an op-ed by Israel Cohen (“Learn from the ultra-Orthodox how to stop sexual harassment,” Haaretz.com, November 14) that denies the injustices, sexual attacks and harassment in Haredi society, and extols the policy of separation to prevent such behavior.

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