Eight teenagers are suspected of gang-raping an 11-year-old girl in a city in Israel’s north.
The suspects, ranging in age from 14 to 16, were arrested early this month and are now under house arrest. Another seven minors were questioned in the case, police said.
A gag order on reporting the case was lifted by the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
According to police sources, the alleged assaults took place in April. The girl was raped several times, sometimes by one suspect and sometimes by several, police believe.
The girl’s family has complained that police investigators were dragging their feet, but officers told Hebrew media that it took a long time to secure the girl’s cooperation with the investigation.
According to the family, the girl’s mother noticed a drastic change in her behavior around the Passover vacation in April.
“My daughter changed one day. I couldn’t understand where the good little girl I had raised had gone, and why she’s suddenly running away from home and why she was suddenly so aggressive when she demanded to go out with her friends,” the mother was quoted by the Ynet news site as saying.
In one incident, the mother described how her daughter ran away from home, and was found by her and accompanying police officers at a local park.
“In front of the cops, a kid comes up to me and asks, ‘Are you her mother? Your daughter is being raped all the time.'”
That was the moment she filed a complaint with police.
The mother then spoke to her daughter’s friends, and discovered that her daughter had been repeatedly assaulted over three weeks, but had not spoken about it to adults.
A local court issued an emergency order to place the girl in a crisis center, where she was examined by doctors some two months after the assaults.
Police described a different version of events, telling Hebrew media that the investigation was launched in early May after a volunteer in the city’s social services department overheard children at an after-school program discussing the girl’s situation.
The girl was questioned several times by a specially trained child investigator, but refused to cooperate at first, police said. She only offered limited information about her ordeal in early June.
In the meantime, police examined the girl’s phone, and discovered thousands of messages to and from the suspected assailants. In several conversations, she told the boys she was 15.
The girl eventually began to cooperate, taking officers to locations where the assaults allegedly took place, including abandoned apartments, city parks and nearby orchards.
The youths were arrested in early August, some four months after the alleged attacks. Despite a police request to hold them in custody, a magistrate’s court and then a district court both ordered them released to house arrest citing “problematic” aspects of the girl’s grudging testimony.
The public defender’s office, which is representing six of the eight suspects, said the youths “vehemently deny the suspicions against them. These are normal boys, with no criminal record.”
Attorney Idit Shino Amitai, representing the girl and her mother, slammed police and social services for waiting two months, until June, to obtain a medical exam, and another two months to arrest the suspects.
“What use is a physical exam after two months? All forensic evidence has long since evaporated,” Amitai charged.