One in six female Israeli soldiers said they had been sexually harassed during their military service in 2016, although actual figures could be much higher, according to a report released by the army yesterday.
The results of the internal survey, conducted by the Chief of Staff's Gender Advisor that questioned thousands of women in a variety of roles, found that 16 per cent of female soldiers had reported experiences of sexual harassment. Nine per cent had been harassed multiple times, according to the Times of Israel.
However, when women were asked indirectly about sexual harassment, the survey found the rate may be much higher than the number of reported incidents. When asked about their level of comfort at military facilities, 60 per cent of female officers said there was a climate of sexual harassment as officers made hurtful sexual comments and over a third were subject to inappropriate gestures.
Verbal harassment has been observed to be more common than physical assaults, but is accepted by many female soldiers as part of life in the military.
The figures show a small drop in the number of women who reported harassment during military service when compared to 2014. Some 16.5 per cent of women said they were harassed in 2014 and 65 per cent felt uncomfortable at their base. However, the amount of respondents stating that they experienced sexual harassment four or more times is at the highest level since 2004.
The study comes as the Israeli army is trying to integrate women into the workforce. Yet a report in March by Haaretz revealed that such strategies were failing, as mixed gender battalions and demeaning attitudes towards female soldiers from military officials were discouraging women from participating in active combat roles.
There have also been numerous cases of sexual assault in the armed forces in recent months, resulting in some soldiers serving jail time after being convicted of rape.
In February, Brigadier General Ofek Buchris, the highest ranking officer to face such allegations, reached a plea bargain after being charged with 16 counts of sexual assault which included three rapes. After admitting to the charges, he was demoted to the rank of colonel without having to serve any jail time, prompting harsh criticism from the public.
Such cases have caused women to doubt whether their grievances will be taken seriously, as reflected in figures released earlier this year which showed that although the number of complaints of sexual harassment to the army's support centre has risen, the number of official complaints filed with Israel's Military Police has dropped.