Nearly 10,000 youth in Israel were either perpetrators or victims of harassment via smartphones and social media this past year, which was nearly half of the youth encountered by Elem, a nonprofit organization helping youth in distress.

This was one of the major findings of the annual report on the State of Youth in 2013 released on Thursday by the organization.

This figure mark a 25 percent increase in the number of technology-related harassment cases reported, 10,000 youth in 2013 compared to 8,000 youth in 2012.

In addition, the findings indicated there was an increase in the severity of the harassment complaints, which included cyber bullying, shunning on social media and WhatsApp, and sexually oriented photographs of youth taken and distributed online by other youth.

“The media, social media, and WhatsApp groups are facilitating and perpetuating harassment and violence,” Inbal Dor-Kerbel, deputy director-general of Elem, told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the release of the report.

“Once you had to stand in front of the person and look them in the eye and deal with the consequences of your actions. Today, youth can harass and bully online and the lack of frontal confrontation makes it much easier, because they don’t have to physically be there and see the devastation it can cause.”

The report, which provided an overall bleak outlook of the state of youth in Israel, addressed four key categories: online harassment, sexual violence, homeless youth, and the state of Ethiopian olim. The statistics are based on data gathered on 20,000 youth who sought the organization’s help in 2013 across 80 projects in about 40 municipalities.

With regards to sexual violence among youth, a subject that was under intense media scrutiny this past year, the findings indicated that in 2013, 1,689 youth receiving assistance from Elem reported they were victims of sexual violence, compared to 1,495 in 2012, a 13% increase.

In addition, 700 youth encountered by Elem volunteers were involved in prostitution, of which 98% were past victims or remained victims of sexual assault.

“Citizens of Israel through the media were exposed to shocking cases of group rape of girls by other teens, girls photographed in a pornographic manner and their photos circulated on the Internet, commercial sexual exploitation of boys and girls, and even the involvement of youth in prostitution working as pimps.

Unfortunately, we at Elem encounter cases like these on a daily basis,” said Nava Barak, president of Elem.

According to Barak, the only viable ways to combat the rise of sexual violence are to maintain an ongoing dialogue with youth about sex and sexuality and the objectification of women, integrate sex education from an early age, and most important, meet and listen to youth at school, online, or when they are out at night in the streets.

Another troubling statistic in the study indicated an increase of 25% in homeless youth who appealed to Elem for assistance through its program “Someone to run with” in Tel Aviv. In 2013, 506 youth without a home received assistance from the organization, compared to 400 the previous year.

According to the report, this figure indicates a “worrisome phenomenon” reflecting an increase in the number of homeless young people in general.

“These are youth between the ages of 18 and 26 who have lived on the street for years, ran away from home, were not able to find work. A majority are not in any framework, not in the army or national service, and slowly the streets have swallowed them,” said Dor-Kerbel.

The organization runs two day centers operating six days a week, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Jerusalem, which locate youth living on the street, provide humanitarian aid in the form of hot meals, warm clothing, and showers, and offer psychological and medical care.

“At night these youth return to the streets, whether to sleep on a bench or in a public park,” said Dor-Kerbel.

“We must expand the centers to include sleeping at night for emergency matters. This is an important issue and a budget must be allocated to address this phenomenon.”

The final issue addressed in the report indicates a worsening of the conditions of youth immigrants from Ethiopia.

Elem witnessed a 15% increase in Ethiopian youth involvement in serious violent incidents over the course of the past year. In 2013, 1,667 Ethiopian youth said they were either perpetrators or victims of serious violence, compared to 1,450 in 2012.

“These youth typically come from very poor families, and because the parents do not speak the language they become reliant on their children for the smallest of tasks – a factor that diminishes the authority of the parent and can cause the youth to disconnect from existing frameworks,” said Dor-Kerbel.

In addition, Dor-Kerbel explained, Ethiopian youth are still subject to racism and express their anger through violence, alcohol and drugs.

According to Dr. Simcha Gathon, director of Multiculturalism at Elem, any response to this problem must include an all-encompassing effort addressing the needs of the Ethiopian community at large.

“In cooperation with the Absorption Ministry, the Welfare Ministry, and other social organizations, we are currently building a holistic program that will provide a solution to the situation of the youth at the community, family and young people level,” said Gathon.

The program will include the establishment of centers in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Ethiopian families with an emphasis on strengthening their roots, cultural identity and confidence, aimed at facilitating the connection with other groups in society.

The president of Elem presented the report to President Shimon Peres on Thursday and said she was happy to once again continue the tradition of launching the annual Elem campaign together with the president.

This was the last time that Peres would be doing so, while in office.

Peres, who believes that with proper guidance, every young person who has deviated from the straight and narrow can be rehabilitated and made a productive member of society, has championed and supported organizations such as Elem through his seven-year tenure.

Elem chairman Shlomo Yanai thanked Peres for opening his heart to youth at risk and promoting values aimed at helping the weaker sectors of society, and for the sensitivity he had shown towards youth at risk.

“To us, you will always be citizen No. 1” said Yanai.

Four young people who had been helped by Elem to turn their lives around, and were now acting as mentors to other youth at risk who had similar problems, told Peres their own personal stories.

He questioned each intently to find out more.

Peres said he was grateful that he had been in a position to help organizations such as Elem, because every youngster has the potential to improve.

All four agreed that what is needed to turn youth at risk into productive citizens is willpower, motivation and faith in oneself.

“The best way to address all these issues is to speak with youth, to have a conversation – do not give up even if they don’t respond at first,” Dor-Kerbel said in a message to parents throughout the country.

“The authoritative adult, who comes not to condescend and judge but to help, has proven an incredibly positive motivator for youth – empathy is what really makes a difference. This eyeto- eye dialogue creates openness that unveils the issues and problems that we can address and this is what will bring about change in our society,” she said.

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