Teen can't board bus, as driver says her clothing is 'sexual harassment'

(Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash)
(Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash)

It’s a case of sex and the city bus, as a 13-year-old girl says she was prevented from boarding public transportation because the bus driver claimed her clothing amounted to “sexual harassment.”

The incident took place Friday in northern Israel as Tamara Lahav was sporting a cropped shirt and shorts as she was planning to go to the mall in Binyamina, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper reports: “Lahav was waiting for a bus on Friday at the Binyamina Junction in the north. When a number 9 bus arrived, the driver opened the door and asked Lahav if she had ‘something to cover up with.’

“Lahav said she was surprised by the question and said no. After making another comment, the driver closed the door and drove off.”

The girl, who stayed at the bus stop, said: “I was in shock, I didn’t really understand what happened. After that I regretted that I didn’t confront the driver. I don’t think that boys would have received the same treatment.”

Tamara Lahav making headlines in Israel's aaretz newspaper for being banned from riding a bus due to her clothing. (Haaretz screenshot)
Tamara Lahav making headlines in Israel’s aaretz newspaper for being banned from riding a bus due to her clothing. (Haaretz screenshot)

“It took me a while to understand the situation,” she continued, indicating she was upset at her personal ban due to the driver’s “chauvinistic views.”

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Lahav’s mother, Yael, filed an official complaint with the national authority for public transportation against the driver, saying: “The driver’s actions in public space are a violation of the basic rights that everyone has and above all, a violation of human dignity. We are raising Tamara to be part of an equal society: The driver wouldn’t have commented on how a man or boy dresses, so there is no reason that he should do so for a woman or girl.”

An official with Israel’s Transportation Ministry told Haaretz drivers are not allowed to refuse transportation to people due to their attire, and he expects the public transportation authority will probe what took place.

Kavim, the company which handles the bus route, is now looking into the incident, and says the driver will face disciplinary measures if found to have violated regulations.

“The company instructs and trains the drivers to allow every passenger, men and women, to use its services and board the bus for travel without distinction, and regardless of their clothing,” said Kavim.

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Haaretz added:

The Secular Forum, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to act against religious radicalization and coercion, said in response to the incident that “the link between ‘modesty’ and the way women, teenage girls and children dress is a religious idea, which is meant to constrain women and make them disappear. This is another reason that the public space must be free of religious coercion, for the good of all of us.”

In October 2021, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court awarded 150,000 shekels in compensation to Mor Simchi, then 18, who was denied the right to board an Egged Ta’avura bus in October 2018 because she was wearing shorts, which he said looked like underwear.

The driver “discriminated against her because of her beliefs and liberal lifestyle, as evidenced by her dress,” Judge Kohava Levy ruled, adding that the refusal constituted “gross contempt and humiliation.”

Levy stressed that “inappropriate clothing” – in the view of the driver or the other passengers – isn’t grounds for refusing to let someone board the bus, and that a driver has no business expressing his opinion of any passenger’s clothing. She also concluded that he was guilty of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, since one of the legal definitions of sexual harassment is “degrading or humiliating treatment of any person with regard to his gender or sexual orientation.”

Egged said in its defense that “the values, beliefs and culture of Orthodox passengers should also be respected,” and that the remark about underwear was an attempt to describe her attire as immodest according to the Orthodox public, something which could have caused an uproar on the bus. But Egged also said the driver had exercised bad judgement, “by acting according to his and the passengers’ worldview.”

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