Orthodox students twice as likely to experience sexual abuse says Israeli report

A report based on Israeli Welfare Ministry data shows that separating by gender does not reduce the number of sexual assaults on children


Young students seen learning in the classroom at the opening of the new school year in a school for ultra orthodox jewish boys, in Beit Shemesh, August 28, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ???? ????? ??????? ????? ?????

Children who attend religious schools in Israel are more than twice as likely to experience sexual abuse, according to a stunning new report from a liberal Orthodox organisation published on Sunday.

The report, based on Israel's Welfare Ministry data, reveals that of every 1,000 students in the secular school system, 1.04 were receiving treatment after being the victim of sexual abuse. In the strictly-Orthodox system, that nearly doubles to 1.98 students, and in the state-run religious sector, it more than doubles to 2.39 students.

The study was conducted by progressive religious rights group, the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah Movement. Its head, Shmuel Shattach, said that it shows that separating children by gender, as in most religious schools, does not reduce the number of sexual assaults on children, The Times of Israel reports.

Shattach said: "None of the experts we consulted with for this study were surprised by the results. None of them said, ‘No, your numbers must be wrong.’ Every professional who deals with this issue said that the figures we found generally reflected reality."

The figures used in the study were from the Central Bureau of Statistics, which collated them from reports from municipal social services offices that were collected by the Welfare Ministry.

It is important to note that the figures reveal what type of school the victims attended, but it does not mean that the abuse occurred at school. It should also be noted that the figures reveal only reported cases, which are not included or estimated in the figures. Shattach says that the strictly-Orthodox community in Israel tends to underreport cases of abuse.

The study reveals that both male and female students in state-religious and strictly-Orthodox schools in Israel experience higher rates of sexual abuse. The rate for male students was over three times higher (0.61 students for every 1,000) than their secular counterparts (2.07 in strictly-Orthodox schools, 2.3 in national-religious schools).

The data is broken down according to the type of school, rather than the individual school, which limited the author's ability to draw firm conclusions about abuse rates in mixed-gender schools versus segregated schools, as not all religious schools are coed.

Sattach said that although he cannot proved that mixed settings are better, "I can absolutely prove that gender segregation doesn’t help."

Although Sattach clearly distinguished between the data and his analysis which reflects his views and those of his organisation, he did offer explanations for the higher abuse rates. For example, gender-separated state-religious schools have more male teachers who are statistically more likely to commit sexual abuse. He also cites the lower standard of training and supervision compared to secular schools.

Sattach also speculated that the family structures of the strictly-Orthodox means they tend to have more children than secular families, which could also contribute to higher abuse rates: "When you have three kids, you can track where they all are. When you have 10, it’s more difficult.”

Some the towns that have the highest rates of reported sexual abuse were in settlements in the West Bank where there is less government oversight compared to municipalities in the rest of Israel.

Sattach said: “In gender-segregated societies, there’s that false sense of security. Parents think, ‘OK, it’s just boys. “There’s generally less attention paid to it. So the kids don’t have that terminology. A boy who grew up in that educational system, even if he were to see something happen, he wouldn’t be able to connect it to anything.”

He added: “In a mixed society, we don’t have a false sense of security. We are constantly on top of our kids. ‘Where are you going? Who are you with? Who are your friends?’ We also talk about [sexual abuse], there are conversations about it. What constitutes abuse? Kids have the terminology to understand the issue, to understand what’s right and what’s wrong."

Sattach and his organisation advocate for co-educational schooling because if you put children in a protected bubble without discussing the complexities of the world, “they don’t have that exposure."

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