A recent shocking story from Israel:
A 12 years old boy was arrested for attempted rape and additional incidents of sexual violence against multiple women in Tel Aviv.
Keren Naor, a manager at ELEM’s Sexual Violence Field (information, treatment and prevention) spoke about the story:
“12 years old???? Doesn’t he have a puzzle to solve?”
“Can he even get an erection? Being blamed for rape, sheesh.”
“What do you mean a 12 years old rapist? He probably still has his baby teeth. Where are his parents?!”
“So a 12 years old tried to rape. What punishment is he gonna get? A bag of Bamba?”
“Throw this kid out with the trash before he grows up.”
“A 12 years old kid and a bunch of women. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“If he’s 12 then he’s not aware enough and he needs help.”
These are just a few of the many reactions to this recent case of the 12 years old boy who was sexually violent towards women in Tel Aviv. Some of these comments put the blame on a disease, or mental illness, some blame lack of awareness, some talk about this phenomenon as a stain that needs to be cleansed from society, and there’s also anger towards the parents, the education system and more.
All of these comments are natural, and they all have one thing in common – the notion that a sexually aggressive behavior among kids is a tough pill to swallow. That is also true, of course, of every act ot sexual violence, but when the act is being committed by someone who is 12 years old, if not even younger, it creates a dissonance. This period in one’s life, a person’s childhood, is meant to be full of innocence, curiosity and play, a time where the sexual development is happening gradually and matches the physical, mental and emotional development in every step of the way. Sadly, for some kids, especially those who experienced trauma (be it singular, or on multiple occasions), the process of normal development is shattered, and instead, something else comes to the surface, a behavior that is hurtful and inappropriate.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number and the severity of sexual violence acts committed by children and minors, with the assailants becoming younger and younger. I’m personally convinced that the cases we hear about are just the tip of the iceberg. This is a wider phenomenon than people realize, with cases that we sometimes learn about only years down the line. It is, of course, possible that this increase we see in the data is partially due to more light being shed on the subject these days, or maybe our society simply became more violent and impatient.
As part of our work at ELEM we sometimes meet very young kids (including kids who are still in kindergarten) who were sexually violent towards others. The younger the kid is, it’s more likely that they have experienced trauma, and they very often suffered physical abuse. It’s common to see a lot of learning disabilities among these kids, a problematic family dynamic, and hardships in developing healthy social relationships. It’s important to know that the fact that kids are much more easily exposed to porn these days plays a major role. Some of these kids are too young to understand what they’re watching, but they still see enough to mimic what they saw. We’ve found, more than once, and after the fact, that a kid who was sexually violent also watched porn. A kid can feel scared and helpless because they’ve been exposed to sexuality and violence, without having the tools and emotional resources to deal with these feelings. And then the sexual acts a kid commits gives them the illusion of power and control, a need that comes to the surface as a result of confusion and helplessness.
It’s important to understand that the world of sexual violence is a world of addiction, and like every other addition, in order to maintain the level of excitement and stimulation, there’s a need to increase the frequency of the act. So if a child isn’t caught, or isn’t being treated, we’ll see an increase in the intensity and the severity of the acts they commit. This is why there’s another angle in treating a child who hurt others – preventing the next act of violence and preventing additional victims. So when I hear about a 12 years old who committed a sexually violent act, the first thing that comes to mind is that the kid needs to start treatment as soon as possible. We want to intervene today, right now. It’s critical.
And what can we do in the meantime? Talk to kids about sexuality. Encourage an open discussion about the subject at home/school and condemn every forceful and one-sided act, including sexist jokes or talking about women in a way that is belittling. Just remember that talking to children about sexuality doesn’t encourage early sexual behavior!
It’s also crucial to talk about porn. We might not be able to prevent kids and teenagers from watching porn, but we can certainly mediate the content and the messages such content sends. We need to explain what happens in reality vs. what’s presented in movies/games/commercials etc. Lastly, it’s important to encourage empathy towards others (not just when it comes to sex) and let your children know that empathy is the way to go.