Featured in the debate were 505 testimonies collected from Israeli men and women over the age of 18 who were sexually assaulted in their childhoods. The current ages of the victims ranged from 18 to 83, and the age range when they experienced assault ranged from zero to 18, with an average age of eight. Some 25% of the assaults began when the victims were under the age of five.
The statistics showed that 91% of the assailants were people the victims knew, and 50% were family members, half of which were from the nuclear family and half from the extended family.
Out of the cases of sexual assault, 71.5% were continuous cases, and 25% were one-off occurrences. There was no data for the remaining 3.5%.
The testimonies also revealed that more of the cases were not revealed or dealt with during the victims’ childhoods. Only 41% of cases were revealed either by the child or someone else in their life, but only 21% ended up getting the help they needed from welfare and police.
Two of the people whose testimonies were given to the committee were present at the debate and gave first-hand accounts of what they went through.
“I was sexually abused in the city I lived in between the ages of 11 and 15,” said Ephraim Harrow. “At that age, the child has no ability to report what is happening to them, and only the people in their direct environment can recognize and suspect. I used to scream to the sky ‘why is this man doing this to me, and why is he killing my soul?’ After that, I would go home as if nothing had happened. In school, they thought that I had disciplinary issues. I was kicked out of seven schools by the time I was in 12th grade because I couldn’t handle it, and I couldn’t sit and learn, but no one asked me why or what was happening to me. They told me I had potential, and I wasn’t living up to it. I had a hard time at school, and then I would go home and get sexually abused, and in the nights, I would cry and wonder why I deserve this.
“I entered myself into an institution called Retorno that you usually get sent to with an order. Eight months there saved my life because they asked me, ‘Effi, what happened? Come talk to me, how are you?’ These days, I volunteer at schools and give them lectures and speak with parents. Parents need to know that if everything is going well in school and suddenly, everything goes wrong, something is happening to their kid.”
The second account was given by Hadar Ezra Wiesel.
“I was sexually assaulted by the rabbi in my school, and then I was hurt by the school staff. He was married with five children and a teacher and organizer of an entire grade, and I told my mum out of guilt that I kissed the married rabbi. Thankfully, she believed me, supported me and held me afloat. In school, they didn’t ask me how I was doing and even forbade me from speaking. I was invisible. Suddenly I went from the chairwoman of the student council to failing exams and no one saw anything.
“What I went through is called secondary trauma, but it’s worse than what the rabbi did to me. That principal didn’t protect me, didn’t report what he was supposed to and then didn’t pay me any attention. They didn’t protect me, they humiliated me, shut me up and made me feel like it was my fault. I went through a criminal procedure and then a civil procedure. I sued the school because it was important to me to get the recognition that I’m not at fault and responsible, and I still feel guilty. I still feel like the girl who was silenced, that girl that people called a ‘seductive girl’.”
“I’m in contact with many parents in my job, and they all tell me that I’m exaggerating and it cannot be that the statistics are that high and common. They cannot imagine the reality, but without the parent’s belief, the kid is scared to speak out, and the problem deepens. Therefore, we have to raise awareness.
“One of the jobs for the Knesset is to deepen the public discourse on matters that need to be put on the table,” said Judge Nava Ben Or. “The public discourse on protecting children who have been sexually harassed is not open enough, maybe because there is a difficulty in keeping the phenomenon contained, so it also cannot be prevented. The relevant authorities have a real will to cooperate, and there are many rules and policies, but they aren’t actualized enough in practice. The gap needs to be bridged so that any child that is in need will find the person to save them from the horror they find themselves in.
“These kids experience awful loneliness because they are stuck in an emotional prison. Most of the attacks are in the nuclear or extended family. They lose faith in those who were supposed to protect them, and they also fear the discovery that can destroy the family. Even when they came to testify to us as adults, they needed great courage to reveal the details and themselves, and we owe them a deep thanks for their public courage.”
Manager of the public committee Prof. Karmit Katz: “The basis for this committee is that every moral society has to recognize the atrocities that are committed within it,” said the committee’s manager Prof. Karmit Katz. “These numbers threaten us and scare us, so we refuse to recognize them. We have to clear the stage for the voices of the victims and make a change together with them. A good and moral social response will help to deal with the harm that is done to these victims. Changing the victims’ feelings of guilt will change the lives of millions of children. There is no reason for shame to come from a social discourse that denounces and denies them for a variety of reasons. From this belief, we have set up this public committee.
“I demanded from the prime minister [Naftali Bennett] that all teachers in the education system be trained to recognize and report victims of sexual abuse and begin a discourse in schools to encourage children to report the attacks and, more than that, let the children know that they are not alone,” said Shir.