Analysis: Thousands of child abuse reports, but few come from the public

There were 12,000 reports to the police or welfare authorities in Gush Dan alone last year.

child abuse 88 (photo credit: )
child abuse 88
(photo credit: )
There were 12,000 reports to the police or welfare authorities in Gush Dan alone last year regarding physical, psychological or sexual abuse of children, Nahum Itzkowitz, director-general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. However, few of these reports were filed by neighbors who might have witnessed or had indications that these or other children were subjected to abuse, even though a law passed 20 years ago obliges them to do so. The provision is included in Article 368 D of the Penal Law and states that "if a person has reasonable grounds for believing that an offense was recently committed against a minor or helpless person by the person responsible for him, then he must report that as soon as possible to a welfare officer or to the police. Whoever violates this obligation is liable to three months imprisonment." The law also goes on to say that professionals who should be more easily able to discern abuse - such as doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers and others - can be sentenced up to six months in jail if they fail to report suspicions of abuse. According to Itzkowitz, there is little public awareness of the law, especially on the part of nonprofessionals, and the police themselves hardly ever investigate anyone who might have violated it. "The provision is almost never enforced," said Itzkowitz. "The number of times police have pressed charges is negligible. They don't think that the failure to report is a matter of public interest." According to Itzkowitz, however, active participation by the public in reporting child abusers would be very helpful. "We can't know what is going on in every single home," he said. "The public has a moral and legal obligation to report suspicious conduct." He said this was particularly true of children up to the age of five, where society has no access to them unless the parents wants it - as was so in the case of four-year-old Rose Pizem. From the time children reach the age of compulsory kindergarten, child-carers outside the family have the opportunity to observe them. Until then, they have no protection against relatives or other would-be predators. He said there was no reason to fear that the threat of criminal sanctions would turn Israel into an informer state. For one thing, this has not happened in the 20 years that the law has been in effect. Second, the law deals only with minors or helpless people who constitute a relatively small portion of the population. Itzkowitz pointed out that in Switzerland, for example, the police depend on citizen reports regarding many different kinds of offenses, including financial crimes.