An Israeli court has convicted a polygamist cult leader of sex crimes after he kept a harem of women who bore him dozens of children in a state of near total obedience.
The Tel Aviv district court convicted Goel Ratzon of rape, incest and other offences, but acquitted him of an enslavement charge, sparking cries of outrage in the courtroom.
The case shocked Israelis when details of the cult emerged in 2010. Ratzon kept at least 21 “wives”, some of whom tattooed his name on their bodies along with images of the short 64-year-old with long white hair and beard.
The children they bore him were named after variations of his first name Goel, or “saviour” in Hebrew.
Yehudit Herman, who was part of the harem, told channel 2 television she had mixed feelings about the court’s decisions. She said she was “really happy” that he was charged with the sex crimes. “I know what damage went on there, there are really women who were hurt by him for the rest of their lives, small girls and women.”
She said she was disappointed that he was not charged with enslavement but that is what she assumed would happen as it was difficult to prove. “This wasn’t regular slavery where someone’s passport is taken away from them and they are locked up and they are physically deprived of things,” she said. “This was spiritual slavery, mental slavery,” she said.
She said she was 17 years old when she met Ratzon, then 30 years her senior. Ms Herman had lived with Ratzon for 12 years and had five children with him according to the station.
Another former member of the harem, identified by her first name Maayan in Israeli media, was outraged and tearfully cried out at the courthouse after the rulings. “I was in total slavery! If the state of Israel wouldn’t have freed me I would have been serving a life sentence.”
A sentencing date was not immediately set.