For the first time, the Council for Higher Education (CHE) has appointed someone to be responsible for preventing sexual harassment, CHE representatives told the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women. Sigal Mordoch, an assistant to the deputy head of the CHE, will be in charge of dealing with issues relating to sexual harassment.
The Knesset committee held its third annual meeting on Monday, January 14, on sexual harassment in institutions of higher learning. The session was devoted primarily to following up on reports from 106 out of 152 colleges and universities detailing 146 official complaints, as well as 72 rumors and unofficial complaints, received during the last year. Out of those that submitted reports, 50 institutes of higher education claimed that received no complaints or rumors of sexual harassment during 2017, while 19 reported receiving only one complaint.
Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), Chairwoman of the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, commented that while these figures represent a record high for the number of reports on sexual harassment in the Israeli academy, “There’s no doubt that the number of reports does not reflect the reality on campuses, just as is the case in of Israeli society as a whole.” Touma- Sliman noted that “Society still doesn’t help and doesn’t allow women to say, ‘I was assaulted, I was harassed.’ Many are still afraid to speak, and with good reason.”
Touma-Sliman criticized some of the reports for indicating that the population group that was the focus of the study at their specific institution does not experience sexual harassment, and that the school’s administration only submitted the report in order to comply with the law. “That is an unacceptable claim, and we reject it. If only it were so that a certain population group is not plagued by sexual harassment, we’d all be very happy, but that’s not the situation,” she said.
The committee’s legal adviser, Anat Maimon, said that in 40% of the institutes that submitted reports, those officials responsible for receiving complaints of sexual harassment have not received sufficient training – at least 18 hours, as stipulated by law.
Inbar Hochberg, deputy chairwoman of the National Union of Israeli Students, presented a plan to reform the way campuses respond to sexual harassment, calling for every institution to establish an office to deal with the issue, in which there will be the responsible head, a student representative, and a psychologist or social worker. In addition, she said campuses should have disciplinary courts with three judges, at least one coming from outside the campus, along with a student representative if the complainant is a student. She also called to publicize the name of those found guilty of harassment, while protecting the anonymity of the complainants. Touma-Sliman supported Hochberg’s proposals and called for campuses to adopt them.