Israel saw a 24 percent increase in children and teenagers treated by authorities after being sexually abused from 2019 to 2020, according to Welfare Ministry figures released Tuesday.
During 2020 — when many people stayed home much more than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic — welfare authorities dealt with 2,839 minors who said they had been sexually abused, compared with 2,285 during 2019, according to the ministry.
According to the data, 10% of the victims were aged 3-6, 44% were 7-12 and 46% were 13-17. Until puberty age the ratio of boys and girls among the victims is similar, while most teenage victims are female. In total, 60% of the victims were female.
The ministry also said 2,440 adults were treated last year in shelters for sex abuse victims. They comprise 1,981 women, 278 men and 181 people who identify as neither.
Among the alleged offenders, 52% were minors and 44% were adults. The identities of the remaining 4% are unknown.
About half the cases of abuse were allegedly committed by family members. Some victims were abused by several people.
Actual abuse numbers are thought to be much higher as many cases go unreported, according to experts.
Welfare officials and victim aid groups have raised alarm bells during the COVID-19 pandemic that there could be a “silent epidemic” of abuse in the home due to successive lockdowns, with victims unable to escape their tormentors or catch the attention of authorities.
“We must give victims the full support we are obligated to give as a society,” said Welfare Minister Meir Cohen said in a statement. “Sexual abuse can become an open wound for the victims, which is why the Welfare Ministry is acting constantly to identify additional needs.”
The ministry said it operates 21 regional centers and some 50 smaller units for children and teenagers who have suffered sexual abuse and their parents. Those centers also treat minors displaying sexual behavior that could develop into abusive behavior, seeking to prevent that. The ministry said operating these centers cost NIS 34 million ($10.6 million) in 2020.
The figures were published as the Knesset dedicated a day to combating sexual violence.
Yael Sherer, head of the Survivors of Sexual Violence Advocacy Group, which initiated the discussions together with MKs Idit Silman (Yamina) and Mossi Raz (Meretz), said: “The meeting between the victims and the lawmakers — those who control our fates — was intense for all sides and immeasurably important.”