Several weeks ago, there was a flurry of stories about someone in Israel convicted of “rape by deception.” Here is a typical lede for the story, this one from the BBC:
An Arab man convicted in Israel of rape because he pretended he was a Jew when he had consensual sex with a Jewish woman has called the verdict racist.
It is a case that has raised some very difficult questions about discrimination and the legal system in Israel.
Two years ago Kashur met a Jewish woman on the street in Jerusalem. He worked as a messenger for an Israeli law firm and like some other Palestinians looking to integrate more effectively into Israeli society had assumed the identity of a Jew. He called himself Dudu, a common Israeli name.
On the same day the two had a consensual sexual encounter in a nearby office building. The woman, whose identity is still protected by law, did not know Kashur was an Arab. When she found out she filed a complaint with police.
The conviction enraged many people. The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan offered a typically understated view:
But it’s the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It’s about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It’s about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It’s a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.
Writing about sexual assault is difficult. Witnesses are unreliable, some identities are protected while others are not, and the details are difficult to write up. But blogger Victor Shikhman says the media got this story horribly wrong.
Indeed, a new story out from Haaretz apparently reveals that the widespread understanding of this story was incorrect. Unfortunately that story is only in Hebrew, but you can read a translation here from Elizabeth Tsurkov. Shikhman summarizes here:
The gist of it is as follows. A woman was raped. She was no angel — sexually abused by her father, a history of working as a prostitute. The victim’s prior history of abuse and prostitution left her with a fragile mental state that came out under the duress of cross-examination. Concerned about her credibility, despite the physical evidence which confirmed the rape, the Prosecution chose to accept a plea bargain with the Defense, on condition that the defendant serve jail time.
The defendant was temporarily freed while the case was under appeal, and began to give media interviews, where he outlined his version of the story — that “she wanted it”, etc. The media pounced on the sensational, and utterly unfounded, element of racism, based on the information that was released to them — which was that a rape-by-deception case between an Arab man and a Jewish woman “who wanted it” resulted in jail time. Meanwhile, the Prosecution was caught in a double bind — it had signed off on reducing the charges to rape-by-deception, and was bound by secrecy to not reveal that the original charge of rape had the weight of evidence.
I’d only add that the deception discussed in the case had very little to do with race and more to do with false statements about marriage, children, where he was about to take the victim, and why.
It’s difficult to combat a false narrative when no one is authorized to refute it. Still, it’s a good reminder that sexual assault stories are difficult to report on for very good reasons. And those reasons shouldn’t be ignored when coming across a case like this.