‘Teens increasingly use Internet to humiliate peers’
Director of nonprofit organization says alcohol abuse, sexual and physical violence and unwanted pregnancies take place unnoticed by parents, teachers.
By RUTH EGLASH
Social media Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter are fast becoming a medium for anti-social teenage behavior and a new way of bullying and humiliating peers, according to a report to be published Wednesday by the nonprofit organization Elem, which helps youth at risk through a variety of outreach programs.Based on interviews with some 13,437 teenagers counseled by Elem volunteers and social workers over the past year, one in five teenagers reported being the victim of sexual harassment or physical abuse on social networking sites, and more than 95 percent said they had been severely humiliated in one way or another on the Internet.The annual report, which was officially presented to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday, showed a general increase of 10% in cases of sexual and physical violence reported by Israel’s teens.“Our field workers and volunteers are extremely concerned at the deteriorating situation, in every sense, for young people in this country,” Elem director Efrat Shafrut commented Tuesday. “Alcohol abuse, sexual and physical violence and unwanted pregnancies, these are all taking place outside of the traditional family units, and parents and teachers do not seem to be aware that it is happening.”The Elem report comes less than a month after two high-profile cases of young girls being subjected to ongoing sexual abuse and even gang rape, right under the noses of school staff and social workers, were highlighted in the media.According to Elem, one of the main problems affecting teenagers is increasing alcohol abuse, which the report noted “leads to other phenomena such as physical and sexual violence.”The organization highlighted that the overwhelming majority (90%) of teenagers counseled by Elem admitted to drinking alcohol at least once a week, and, the report noted, the starting age for alcohol consumption has fallen to 11 over the past year.AdvertisementIn addition to the violence, the report also found an alarming increase – 15% over last year – in the number of teenage girls under 17 becoming pregnant. Some 70% of the young women admitted to taking the morning-after pill in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and 80% said they regularly took emergency contraception as a precautionary measure after having unprotected intercourse.Another statistic the organization pointed out was the falling age of young children left wandering the streets unaccompanied, even late into the night. Children as young as eight or nine were assisted by Elem staff, said the report.“Over the past year, the state of Israel’s teens has become increasingly worse,” said Nava Barak, Elem’s president. “These are the same children who will grow up in the next decade, and we will have to rely on them for security, finance, technology and human services. I call on the government, charities and parents to work together to change the direction that we are headed.”According to Elem, out of the roughly 800,000 Israelis between 12 and18, a quarter are considered at risk. Over the past year, Elem staffand volunteers encountered some 13,437 teenagers who were in need ofassistance for a variety of reasons. Out of those, 5,685 wereIsraeli-born Jews, 641 were from the Arab sector, and over 50%, or7,111, were new immigrants.Elem’s report, which is based on data recorded by the organization’ssocial workers and volunteers, is usually released in time for theorganization’s annual fund-raising campaign.Called “Lights of Hope,” the campaign calls on the public to senddonations of NIS 10 via text message (3553 with No. 10) and “light up”one of 600,000 light bulbs on an enormous Israeli flag to be raised onthe side of the Azrieli Center’s square building in Tel Aviv onThursday.
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