Street Theater in Jerusalem Protests Rape

“I would like to report a rape.”

“Are you married?”
“Are you a virgin?”
“Do you take the Pill?”
“So what’re you worried about, lady?”

This exchange took place not in the local police station, but in front of Jerusalem’s largest department store, “HaMashbir.” The occasion was a demonstration held on August 3 by the Israeli Feminist Movement against the degrading treatment of rape victims by authorities and by the general public.

Members of the women’s street theater group dramatized this humiliating treatment and the attitudes toward rape which are behind it. At the same time, about 30 members of the Jerusalem branch of the movement demonstrated and distributed leaflets explaining their position and demands:

• Special rape units composed of women police officers to handle rape cases must be organized. They would interrogate the victim and accompany her when she goes for a medical examination.

• Psychological help must be made available to the victim, if such help is needed.

• Police officers must be educated about rape—that it exists, that it is a serious crime of assault, and that the victim is in need of understanding, sensitive treatment.

• There must be recognition of rape as a crime that can be committed within marriage, and in other relationships as well.

• Rapists must be punished; they must be brought to trial and they must receive sentences commensurate with their crimes.

In 1976, 135 women reported cases of rape to the Israeli police. This number represents a fraction of the rapes that actually took place that year. Rape victims, like the rest of society, often believe that they themselves are somehow to blame, that somehow by their actions or manner of dress, they brought on the attack themselves. They are almost universally ashamed to go to the police, embarrassed by what has happened to them and fearful of the kind of treatment dramatized by the theater group.

The police, products of their society, show no more understanding than the people on the street. A woman who had been raped near the Hebrew University and who did report to the police vowed that she would never go to them again. She said their leering grins and insulting assumption that she had actually enjoyed the experience were almost more horrible than the rape itself. “It was like being raped all over again,” she said.

The Israeli Feminist Movement skit was based on a true story in the press concerning a young woman who was raped and who reported the crime to the police. She was subjected to callous interrogation by the male officers, after which she was told to hitchhike to the hospital for a medical examination. Up to this point the skit was faithful to reality, even using the same questions that the police had asked the woman. But one important change was made. In the skit, the victim gets angry and calls to all women to unite, to learn self-defense and to demand better treatment of the authorities.

In real life the woman, rejected by her fiance—who held her guilty for what had happened—committed suicide.

The feminists’ demonstration got a mixed reaction from the crowd outside “Ha-Mashbir.” Although there were those who agreed with the women, many spectators did not even understand what was going on. Street theater is a new phenomenon in Israel and political street theater was, until now, unheard of.

One of the players held a large placard on which was written in old-fashioned Hebrew lettering “Avoid Rape.” She was joined by another woman who, on that hot summer day, was wearing a long-sleeved maxi-dress, a large hat, a veil, gloves, boots and a scarf. After her came another woman with another placard: “Dress Modestly.” Many people did not understand. Assuming that the victim is responsible for the crime that is perpetrated against her, the people approved of the straightforward admonition that they thought the women were presenting. Next time, the feminists have decided, the woman will wear a large feed sack with a huge cardboard padlock around her middle. They hope this costume will be sufficiently absurd to get their message across.

The theater group is now working on a genera] feminist program which they intend to take to several cities, performing both on the streets and indoors. Other members of the Jerusalem branch of the Israeli Feminist Movement are trying to raise money to open a women’s center in the capital. They hope to establish a 24-hour rape hotline, and to provide services to rape victims and battered wives. Meanwhile, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that a Tel Aviv woman recently sent IL 1000 to the Premier’s office to help create a governmental unit that would follow up rape cases and try to reduce that crime. The woman said she was prompted by newspaper reports of a girl who was raped by three men after she was kidnapped at the Petach Tikva bus terminal. “It occurred to me that my daughter cannot walk safely in the bus station anymore,” she said.