A former Tel Aviv middle school teacher was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for the rape of a 12-year-old student, a year and a half after he was convicted.
Yotam Okon was convicted in December 2021 after he admitted his guilt in a plea deal that was arranged by prosecutors in consultation with the girl. He will also pay NIS 200,000 (approximately $64,000) in compensation to his victim.
The two sides were unable to agree on sentencing at the time and the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court delayed the final ruling until a deal was reached.
The victim’s mother said Thursday that her daughter was happy to know that she played a role in placing Okon behind bars and preventing further harm to other children.
“I am happy that the court put an end to the activities of a criminal who harmed my daughter and could have harmed other children,” the mother was quoted as saying by the Kan public broadcaster. “She overcame [the actions] of someone who misled her as an educator and took advantage of his position and the fact that she was an innocent girl in 6th grade.”
The victim’s mother said she hopes that other victims will feel empowered to come forward with their stories: “This is the most important message of all.”
In a statement, the victim’s lawyer, Tami Klenberg-Levy, said her client “chose bravely to speak about the incident and even to go to the police,” adding that she hoped the case could serve an example to others.
According to the indictment, Okon committed sexual offenses against a number of minors over a period of several months and was arrested in August 2021 after police corroborated the testimony against him.
The story came to light when one of the mothers at the Tel Aviv school came across a WhatsApp conversation Okon was having with her daughter in which the teacher asked the student to perform indecent acts, received explicit pictures from her and invited her to his home, the Ynet news site reported.
In addition to filing police complaints, several students at the school came forward on TikTok with stories about how Okon acted inappropriately around them.
Those allegations were made in response to a video posted to TikTok by 17-year-old Maya Landau. In it, she said: “The teacher who gave me ‘special’ treatment in 9th grade has finally been arrested. If there is anyone else who went through something similar with him, please send me a direct message and we will go together to testify.”
Landau’s video garnered many responses from young girls corroborating her story and sharing similar examples of harassment by Okon while he was their teacher.
According to Channel 13 news, Okon was fired from his job five months prior to his arrest, evidently due to similar allegations against him. However, the Education Ministry failed to pass along the relevant information to the police and the probe was only opened when several of the girls filed police complaints of their own. The school principal was questioned by police.