Easy prey: Who’d believe an autistic rape victim?

Who is looking out for Israel’s helpless citizens? The story of Sharon, a woman on the autistic spectrum, suggests that precious few official organizations if any. Sharon was taken to hospital because of a sudden deterioration in her condition, but the requisite tests were not carried out for years. When she was finally hospitalized, she was found to have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. This, and other findings, raised suspicions that she had been raped. Nonetheless, a police complaint was closed with alarming alacrity, and an investigation was only launched following an approach from Shomrim. As if that were not enough, the institute where Sharon was treated did not even look into the incident. A Shomrim investigation.

Who is looking out for Israel’s helpless citizens? The story of Sharon, a woman on the autistic spectrum, suggests that precious few official organizations if any. Sharon was taken to hospital because of a sudden deterioration in her condition, but the requisite tests were not carried out for years. When she was finally hospitalized, she was found to have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. This, and other findings, raised suspicions that she had been raped. Nonetheless, a police complaint was closed with alarming alacrity, and an investigation was only launched following an approach from Shomrim. As if that were not enough, the institute where Sharon was treated did not even look into the incident. A Shomrim investigation.

Who is looking out for Israel’s helpless citizens? The story of Sharon, a woman on the autistic spectrum, suggests that precious few official organizations if any. Sharon was taken to hospital because of a sudden deterioration in her condition, but the requisite tests were not carried out for years. When she was finally hospitalized, she was found to have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. This, and other findings, raised suspicions that she had been raped. Nonetheless, a police complaint was closed with alarming alacrity, and an investigation was only launched following an approach from Shomrim. As if that were not enough, the institute where Sharon was treated did not even look into the incident. A Shomrim investigation.

Roni Singer

Sharon hospitalized. Photo: Private

February 2, 2022

Summary

People with disabilities in Israel are far more vulnerable to sexual assault than the general population but are treated with disdain by the very authorities that are supposed to help them.

The story of Sharon, a 31-year-old woman on the autistic spectrum, is one particularly harrowing example. Sharon was taken to hospital following a rapid deterioration in her condition, but for years she was not given the requisite tests. When she was finally hospitalized, she was found to be suffering from a sexually transmitted disease. This, along with other findings, raised concerns that she had been raped.

The day center where Sharon was treated did not even bother investigating the incident. A police complaint was closed with indecent speed, and it was only after an approach from Shomrim that a criminal investigation was launched.

“You don’t want to imagine that’s what happened to your beautiful, sweet daughter,” says Anat, Sharon’s mother, standing by her daughter’s hospital bed as she continues to be given treatment for the STDs she contracted. “I would prefer to believe that her behavior changed because she went crazy, or that it’s all a mistake – and not because someone hurt her. For so long, no one knew why she was suffering so much. I saw her deterioration, and it was obvious that something had happened, but there was failure after failure until we took her to the hospital and they did the right tests. She was functioning and responsive; now, she’s back in diapers. I’m crushed.”

Shomrim has obtained correspondence and documents showing that Sharon contracted a disease most likely transmitted through sexual contact. Additional findings reinforced this conclusion. Two medical experts concluded that Sharon had been sexually assaulted, but, at that time – because too much time had passed – it was impossible to make a definitive determination. “That’s how it is with people on the autistic spectrum who don’t talk,” says Anat. “Who will believe them and how can we know what really happened?”

“The statistics show that women with disabilities are sexually assaulted far more often than women who don’t have disabilities,” says Orit Soltziano, the head of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. “These are people who have a lot of caregivers around them, they only have a partial cognitive and analytical grasp on reality, and they find it hard to interpret situations. The assailants see them as easy prey.”

What makes matters even worse is the way that the system treats the distress expressed by these women and the tendency to see them as children instead of being especially alert to the possibility of sexual assault and then conducting the tests needed to confirm this.

“What we need in Israel – and what, to my great regret, does not exist – is for all of the caregiving services to be extra aware of sexual assault,” says Soltziano.

Anat shows us on her computer photographs taken four years ago at a party at her then place of work. Standing next to her is Sharon, her daughter, looking healthy with her long hair and a happy smile. “These are photos from another life,” Anat says. “She may be autistic, but we had a life. She blossomed and was happy. I was working and I felt good. The past few years have been hell. Sharon’s condition deteriorated because of an incident we could only guest at – and our lives were ruined. I want justice.”

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
To read the full story click here.