Growing number of children aged 12 and under are sexual abusers in Israel

The number of children aged 12 and under who have perpetrated sexual assaults against members of their families has nearly doubled over the past two years, according to a report published Monday by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.

The number children in this age group who were listed as victims of sexual assault also nearly doubled over this period, the association said. But while professionals in the field believe that this increase is due mainly to increased reporting, there is a consensus among them that the number of children who sexually assault other children is genuinely growing.

Data from the Welfare Ministry’s child investigation service indicate a similar trend. In 1990, only 2.9 percent of all children up to the age of 14 who were suspected of committing sexual abuse were aged six to eight. In 2006, however, the proportion rose to 6.8 percent.

According to police data analyzed by the National Council for the Child, a decade ago, 57 percent of all minors suspected of committing sexual abuse were 12 to 15 years old. In 2007, however, the proportion rose to 65 percent.

Professionals say that many factors have contributed to the drop in the age of the assaulters. These include increased awareness of the problem, which has increased the rate of reporting even among conservative populations such as the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs; children’s exposure to pornography and violence on television and the computer; parents’ absence from the home and a general lack of supervision; and earlier sexual maturation.

The Education Ministry’s unit for preventing abuse of children and adolescents describes a similar trend.

In 2004, about 50 percent all requests by teachers and other school professionals for a consultation about children who had committed sexual abuse concerned children in kindergartens and elementary schools.

In 2007, however, this group was the subject of 75 percent of all requests for consultations.

“We are definitely seeing deviant and harmful sexual behavior at younger and younger ages,” said Shosh Zimmerman, director of the Education Ministry’s unit for preventing abuse.

Zimmerman, along with representatives of the Welfare Ministry and other relevant agencies, served on a committee that formulated a plan in 2004 for dealing with children under the age of 12 who sexually abuse others. She said that her ministry has begun to train psychologists to treat such children, and implementation of the plan will begin this coming school year.

The chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), commented: “The data place a mirror in front of Israeli society, which is becoming increasingly ugly.”

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