Lately, we have been inundated with news reports about sex crimes
against children - some themselves perpetrated by minors and others
kick-started by adults in cyberspace.
In one particularly horrific case, the victim endured severe abuse
between the ages of 10 to 14 and her tormentors were no older than she
was. This presents a particular predicament for law enforcement and
the justice system. It's not only a matter of inordinate judicial
leniency, though that too is a persistent problem.
The age of criminal culpability in Israel begins at 12 (as against 10
in Great Britain), but the bigger inequity resides in the fact that no
matter how heinous or recidivist the felony, if the offender was just
one day short of his 18th birthday when indicted, his name will never
appear on the sex-offender registry.
This means that he will be entirely off the radar regarding whatever
supervision is mandated in this country for convicted sex offenders -
including after they have done their time.
Thus someone found guilty of a serious sex crime at age 17 will be
entitled to return to close proximity with his uninformed victim, work
with children and remain unmonitored with no stain on his record and
Indeed, if a juvenile rapist were to escape the penitentiary to which
he was sentenced, the authorities would be prohibited from publishing
his name and photo, because he is legally a minor and thus entitled to
anonymity and the law's protection.
This despite the greater need to protect the victims - themselves children.
Recidivism rates are especially high in cases of sexual crime. Sex
offenders are judged four times likelier than non-sex offenders to be
arrested for another such crime after being discharged from prison.
The age of the perpetrator is largely immaterial. FBI data indicates
that a fifth of all American rapes are committed by minors, as are
over half the sexual assaults on children. Minors who reoffend tend to
The figures are doubtless similar here. Yet despite the menace they
pose to others, young offenders are treated with kid gloves,
because... they are kids. There's good reason to reexamine our
society's kneejerk inclination to offer underaged sex offenders
special treatment - even when they are serial rapists and sodomizers.
Most often it's to the distinct detriment of the innocent.
ONE OF the most fundamental duties of society is to protect our
children, even when they are victimized by other children. Looking out
for our kids these days, moreover, is more complex than it was in the
past. It reaches beyond the immediate physical sphere that parents
assume they more easily control.
What the younger generation encounters in cyberspace often goes
unnoticed in most households. This leave impressionable youngsters
vulnerable to the predations of stalkers - people like Avinoam
Braverman, who allegedly targeted some 1,000 girls aged eight-15 on
the Internet and convinced at least three to have sex with him.
And here's where parents must come in.
No matter how vigilant the police and other child-protection agencies
are, such virtual relationships - which eventually cross the line into
the real world - are hard to detect. Although most kids are more
computer savvy than their elders, parents must realize that the buck
stops with them, that they are their sons' and daughters' first line
Just as parents need to be hands-on and know where their offspring are
and who they hang out with, so they must teach them to be wary of
online encounters. Suspicion of strangers is always good advice,
whether in the old-fashioned sense on the way to school or updated to
the environment of Internet chat rooms.
What was true once remains true. Children shouldn't take candy from strangers - in cyberspace, too. They need to be warned over and over about contact with cyber-strangers, especially charmers who inveigle them to do things that are unusual and who enquire when they are home alone.
It's the adult's role to develop the child's critical thinking and to keep his/her child from being the next victim. It's no less than parental duty to instill a little paranoia into children's psyches. Mistrust can be a good thing in given contexts.