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Report finds 360% increase in violence, anxiety among youth after pandemic’s onset

The Elem welfare organization received 1,682 complaints of sexual violence in 2021, a 230% increase from 2019, pointing to COVID as a catalyst for several such trends

Illustrative: A young woman sits alone (torwai; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A young woman sits alone (torwai; iStock by Getty Images)

Israel saw a significant rise in violence, depression and anxiety among at-risk youth throughout 2021, according to an annual report published by the Elem group, a nonprofit welfare organization.

The alarming findings, submitted to President Isaac Herzog on Sunday, point to certain growing trends after years characterized by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it brought on.

According to the data collected by Elem, some 2,126 teenagers reported experiencing violent incidents outside the home — 170 percent higher than data collected in 2020 and a whopping 360% increase compared to data from 2019.

Some 1,893 teenagers said they experienced violence at home in 2021, a 120% increase compared 2020 and a 250% rise compared to 2019.

Reporting instances of online violence, 1,177 teenagers said they were direct victims of such violence — a 230% increase compared to pre-COVID figures collected in 2019.

Elem received 1,682 complaints of sexual violence in 2021, a 230% jump from 2019.

Some 4,000 teenagers reported experiencing depression and anxiety, marking a 190% increase from 2019. The group registered 1,432 cases of teenagers who said they had tried to harm themselves — nearly 150% higher than in 2019.

The alarming trends were also noted among teenagers reporting alcohol and drug abuse, with 5,000 reporting alcohol abuse (130% higher then 2019) and over 4,200 teenagers reporting drug abuse (150% higher than 2019).

According to Elem, the coronavirus pandemic brought with it “a sense of helplessness among at-risk youth. The street, where they had spent most of their time up until the pandemic, became the last place they could stay, while spending lockdowns at home was not relevant for those for whom a home is not a given.”

The organization also noted the rise in popularity during the pandemic of online services and apps that allow users to easily share sexual content, noting the growing challenge social media poses for youth dealing with social anxiety.

“The lockdowns, the isolation, and the absence of frameworks during the pandemic led to an increase in risks that teenagers face,” said Elem president Nava Barak.

From left to right: Nava Barak, president of the Elem organization, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog at the President’s Official Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2022. (GPO/Amos Ben Gershom)

“After two years of COVID-19, life is slowly returning to normal but we are still witnessing an entire generation of children and teenagers being pushed aside, suffering from serious mental, emotional and social ramifications,” she added while presenting the president with a copy of the annual report.

“Elem is a wonderful organization,” Herzog said, thanking the organization’s employees and volunteers for their hard work.

The data collected by Elem covered a total of 12,500 teenagers in Israel between the ages of 12 (4%) to 24 (5%) while most were between the ages of 16-17 (34%) and 18-23 (36%).

The NGO operates 92 consultation and support projects in 42 cities and towns across the country.

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