A significant percentage of Israel's children are exposed to violence and sexual abuse, a new report commissioned by the Knesset's Committee on the Rights of the Child revealed.
While the report suggests an overall drop in violence among children, it states that the number of children subjected to sexual abuse by other children is on the rise.
According to the data, in 2010 the Education Ministry's psychological service recorded 627 cases of sexual abuse of children by their peers and 663 investigations were launched into cases involving sexual offenses committed by minors.
Social Services' data noted 2,918 reports of sexual abuse of minors by minors in 2010 – a rise from 2,811 cases in 2009.
Another report, by the Knesset's Research Center, reviewed violence in schools, saying that over 20% of fifth-graders reported suffering from violence of some kind in school, or being the victim of vandalism or theft.
The report, which will also be reviewed by the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sports Committee, also states that there has been a disconcerting rise in overall violence in schools over the past five years.
Police data, however, suggests that fewer such cases have resulted in criminal records for minors.
'Abuse is sign of great distress'
Hanna Slotzki, of the Youth Division in the Ministry of Social Services, told Ynet that "every report of sexual violence in schools is recorded. It doesn’t necessarily mean that children are abusing other children – sometimes it means that some children are exhibiting odd sexual behavior, which doesn’t necessarily require an intervention by Social Services."
Nevertheless, Slotzki did confirm a rise in violence among school children: "It has a lot to do with the social environment kids live in today, their increased exposure to television and the internet and insufficient parental involvement."
MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), who heads the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said: "This report is just the tip of the iceberg and it reflects the system's poor handling of minors who are sexual offenders.
"This kind of failure will only invite future cases. Treating the offenders is just as important as treating the victims. A child who commits such acts is a 'ticking time bomb' for future offenses."
Neta Shafran, a clinical criminologist and head of the Elem violence prevention center for at-risk youth, stressed that "there is a higher awareness today for cases of sexual abuse of children by children, but one must remember that such cases are rarely about sexual gratification. In children, sexual offenses are usually an expression of great personal distress."
Tomer Velmer contributed to this report
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