Elem annual report shows sharp increase in teen drug abuse

Report published by nonprofit organization Elem also finds 25% rise in sexual harassment or irregular sexual behavior among country's teens.

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April 12, 2011 06:00
3 minute read.
The Elem organization helps youth at risk.

Elem organization_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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There has been a sharp increase in teenage drug use and abuse, with the age of those taking drugs for the first time falling dramatically, according to a report published Tuesday by the nonprofit organization Elem, which helps youth at risk through a variety of outreach programs.

Based on interviews with more than 30,000 youths who were counseled or assisted by the organization in 2010 and on the eyewitness testimonies of some 1,700 volunteers who operate Elem’s outreach programs in 40 locales nationwide, the annual report pointed to two alarming phenomena: the increasing use of drugs and a rise in sexual harassment or irregular sexual behavior among the country’s teens.

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According to the report, there was a rise of 18 percent in the number of teenagers who reported using drugs, including so-called “legal” drugs or dumbed-down marijuana that is sold freely in kiosks and small stores across the country.

In addition, there was a 25% rise in the number of teenage girls saying they had been harassed sexually or been forced into compromising or violent sexual relations with men.

“Hopefully by publishing this report we will raise awareness to these important issues,” commented Efrat Shaprut, executive director of Elem, which on Wednesday will hang an enormous Israeli flag onto the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, near Jaffa Gate, and invite the public to donate money to light one of the 600,000 bulbs decorating the flag, so that the flag is all lit by Independence Day, May 10.

Usually the flag is placed on the side of the Square Building of the Azrieli complex in Tel Aviv, but, explained Shaprut, “We decided to raise the flag in Jerusalem this year because the issue of teenagers at risk is one of the most important facing the State of Israel and it affects youths from all sectors – haredi, secular Jewish, and Arab.”

The organization estimates that a quarter of Israeli teens are considered by social welfare services to be at risk for a variety of reasons, ranging from being victims of severe physical or sexual abuse to experiencing poverty and neglect.

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Over the course of 2010, Elem was in touch or assisted roughly 36,000 youths, helping some through its own programs or referring them to social workers.

“Part of our work is on the streets and the other half is advocacy or raising public awareness,” said Shaprut, who works closely with Elem President Nava Barak.

She said that a big step came this past year when lawmakers passed legislation that would fine store owners selling alcohol to minors.

“Elem welcomes the law passed to prevent the sale of alcohol to those underage and the attempts by the police to enforce that law,” said Shaprut, adding however that the organization, which operates several mobile outreach units to assist youths in distress, has found that certain “legal” drugs have become a common alternative to alcohol.

She explained that there are certain products, such as “Mabsuton” and “Mr. Nice Guy,” that are a lethal mix of chemicals not banned under the law and which are sold for as little as NIS 50 for a small packet in 24-hour supermarkets and kiosks.

Many youths interviewed by Elem reported that the effects of these are similar to illegal drugs like marijuana. Last month the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee announced that it was working on legislation to ban the sale of such substances.

“This is an important step, but sadly we are all too aware that as soon as these drugs are banned there will be other substances that the next generation will find and use,” noted Shaprut, adding that the organization has increased its volunteer network to reach out to youths thinking of trying such drugs.

She also said that it is increasing its work with teenage girls and boys who have fallen victim to sexual violence on the streets, at home and in school.

“Part of the increased reporting is, of course, due to increased media attention around events such as the Katsav case,” explained Shaprut, referring to former president Moshe Katsav’s conviction for rape and sexual harassment.

However, she said, what is most alarming are statistics showing teenagers increasingly involved in violent sexual relationships and a growing number of youth having sexual intercourse in exchange for money, cigarettes or other commodities.

Those interested in lighting a bulb on Elem’s flag can send a text message with the number 10 to 5400 or call 5400. Each bulb costs NIS 10.

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