Rescuing youth from prostitution one of Elem’s prime projects

“I never knew what to ask or whom to ask.”

A prostitute waits for customers along a road. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A prostitute waits for customers along a road.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hundreds of neglected, runaway and homeless youths engage in various forms of prostitution to survive and have a roof over their heads, Elem president Nava Barak told President Reuven Rivlin.
Elem, a nonprofit organization that helps youth in distress, is dedicated to rescuing youths, especially minors, from sexual exploitation, and it intervenes wherever possible, Barak said on Monday.
According to the annual Elem State of Youth report Barak presented to the president, nearly 20% of youths assisted by Elem last year – some 4,000 – were homeless or living in an outside-thehome framework.
Of these homeless young people, 24% were living on the street, 6% were living in a “dangerous setting” and being taken advantage of, while 41% were living in orphanages or foster homes and 29% were living in temporary housing.
The statistics in the report are based on data gathered on some 20,000 youngsters who sought the organization’s help in 2016 across 80 projects in 42 municipalities.
Barak explained that many of the youngsters fell victim through Internet chats, unaware that the people giving them the attention they crave are interested in using them to gratify their sexual desires, some of which fall into the category of depravity.
For the most part, the youngsters don’t realize that they are being sexually abused and coerced or forced into prostitution.
About 4% of distressed youth receiving assistance from Elem are involved in prostitution – 336 on an occasional basis and 451 on a regular basis.
Three times more girls were involved in prostitution than boys – 550 compared to 179, respectively, and 58 transgender youth were also selling their bodies to get by.
Girls are also more likely to contemplate suicide or harm themselves than boys, Elem reported. Some 5% of youth in distress have tried to commit suicide or have physically harmed themselves, the report found – 623 girls compared to 234 boys.
Elem has more than 1,600 volunteers across the country, who seek out these youngsters and give them a willing ear, a good, clean environment and nourishing food, and help them to find themselves as individuals and to make a fresh start.
Barak noted that this extends to the haredi and Arab sectors as well.
The organization has haredi youth in its care and maintains several residential youth centers in different parts of the country, including Jerusalem and the Negev.
Neglected Beduin youth in the Negev bother her greatly, Barak said, because they are severely impoverished and lacking in education.
The organization increased its activities among the Arab and Beduin populations in 2016, assisting some 1,400 Arab youths, of whom the majority faced violence.
Furthermore, 30% of youth engaged in prostitution are from the Arab sector.
Looking out at the young people at Monday’s meeting, many of whom Elem helped, Rivlin told them, “You are the best ones to help other young people in distress, because you know what they’re going through, because you’ve been there and you can tell them that.”
Barak assured him that many of them do just that, acting to some extent as role models.
Rivlin said that society’s indifference to social ills is based on a sense of helplessness.
“They don’t really know what to do. They don’t have the training or the resources, so it’s much easier to be indifferent,” he said.
He, personally, is not indifferent, he said. Young people who have erred, even to the extent of criminal activity and a spell in prison – if they truly mend their ways and ask for clemency, he is inclined to grant it, because he does not want the mistakes of the past to hold back the potential and the future of any young person who has truly reformed.