The Israeli Independent Public - Abstract of the Inquiry Report - December 2021

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“I Lived but I Wasn’t Alive”

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Abstract of the Inquiry Report — December 2021 —


The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Abstract of the Inquiry Report — December 2021 —

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry website: To comment, email:

The Haruv Institute The Haruv Institute, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, 9765418 Tel. 077-5150300, Fax 077-5150304

Design, Editing, and Production English translation and editing: Anat Schultz

Graphic design: Eli Deitch Studio Printing: Maor Wallach Print House


The report of the Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is dedicated to all those who submitted their testimonies, creating the solid foundation for the inquiry’s conclusions and recommendations. Along the way, we’ve met wonderful women and men. We’d like to thank you for the courage to share, in some cases for the first time, the pain that had been silenced for so many years. Thank you for your deep devotion to every child suffering abuse at this very moment. Thank you for the trust you’ve put in us, despite the many years in which you were neither believed nor trusted. Thank you for allowing us to share in such a powerful and complex journey, and for taking on this mission with love and compassion that opened our hearts. The things we’ve learned from you over the past year will forever remained etched – not only in our hearts. This report is a sign of our collective commitment to change. No more silence No more disbelief No more neglect No more loneliness Instead, RESPONSIBILITY It is the State of Israel’s responsibility to enact a change, and together we’ve generated the power to bring that change into being. Yours, with sincere appreciation,

Carmit Katz

Nava Ben-Or

Yael Sherer

Ofra Ben Meir

Anat Ofir

Tzviki Fleishman

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Table of Contents

Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.. . . . . . . . . 9 The Inquiry's Vision and Goals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 The Inquiry's Work Strategy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Inquiry Members. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 Findings of the Inquiry. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 Part I: PublicSystems.............................................. 20 | 1 Reporting the Abuse and Receiving Services .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 | 2 TheHealthSystem................................................ 22 | 3 TheEducationSystem............................................. 24 | 4 The Welfare System. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26 | 5 The Law Enforcement and Legal Systems. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 | 6 TheIncomeSecuritySystems......................................33 Part II: Family, Community, and Society. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 | 1 Intra-Familial Sexual Abuse. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 | 2 Society. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36 | 3 Save Us: On the Importance of Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.. . . . . . . . 37 LearningfromSuccess............................................. 40 Summary and Conclusions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse



This report is different from anything you’ve ever read, since, like the inquiry itself, it shines a light on the experiences, perceptions, and narratives of survivors of child sexual abuse who courageously chose to share their stories. The report focuses on the systemic changes that survivors indicated as crucial for Israeli children to be able to lead lives free of sexual violence. Other changes are necessary so that in the unfortunate case that a child does suffer sexual abuse, the state can provide them with appropriate services.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

One out of five children in Israel suffers sexual abuse, according to a survey conducted in 2011-2014 (Lev-Wiesel and Eisikovits, 2016). Scholars in the field agree that the exact number of child victims of sexual abuse cannot be estimated, and that the phenomenon is under-reported. In other words, its scope is broader than the existing data (Allnock & Barns, 2011; Habetha et al., 2012; Finkelhor, 2008). The severe consequences of child sexual abuse are influenced, among other factors, by social stigma and the public discourse on the issue. The abuse causes victims significant losses, above all the loss of their childhood and the loss of personal and inter-personal agency (Kays-Ebrahim et al., 2021). Due to negative social perceptions and a negative public discourse, these losses are often not properly recognized by society and the environment (Bloom, 2000a; 2000b). This process leaves survivors to cope with repressed and internalized grief – which generates negative self-attributions such as shame, guilt, a negative self-image, and self-blame. These attributions cause serious harm to the psychological well-being of survivors, who must address the consequences of the abuse they suffered in terrible isolation (Bloom, 2007; Brits et al., 2021; Katz et al., 2021). The inquiry was initiated in recognition of the crucial importance of society’s attitude and response to child sexual abuse and of the public discourse on the subject.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


The Inquiry’s Vision and Goals

The inquiry was established to promote a change in policy and services provided to child victims of sexual abuse and to adult survivors who were abused as children. The inquiry chose to focus on child sexual abuse based on the understanding that child sexual abuse is a serious social problem with high prevalence and severe consequences. It therefore requires study, intervention, the development of relevant responses, and improvements on the social and state level. The government and its offices should take steps to improve the identification of child victims and ensure that children receive adequate and appropriate services and fulfill their right to a safe existence in the State of Israel. The inquiry believes that the best way to learn from and rectify injustice is to listen to its survivors, understand and learn from their life stories, and raise awareness of their experience and suffering. Based on this moral vision, the inquiry’s goals are as follows: 1. Provide a respectful and appropriate platform for survivors of child sexual abuse in Israel to share their stories and the messages they deem important to convey to policy makers 2. Consider the different aspects of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse in Israel and raise awareness to it, in order to promote change in the social and public discourse on the subject 3. Identify, based on survivors’ testimonies followed by empirical analysis, the main issues relevant to changing and improving policy in Israel regarding child victims of sexual abuse. The inquiry focused on formulating recommendations for policy changes in the fields that it considered most relevant to the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse of children: welfare services, law, health, education, and social awareness.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


The Inquiry’s Work Strategy

Approaching survivors from diverse communities in Israel – the inquiry took a broadly inclusive perspective, approaching all the various parts – geographically and socially – of Israeli society. A call for survivors’ testimonies was published in five languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic, and English), calling on survivors from all social contexts in Israel to share their stories; survivors were also approached through advertisements on social networks, in the press, and on broadcast radio; in collaboration with the Ministry of Welfare, brochures were distributed in treatment centers throughout the country; activists in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) communities were recruited to assist survivors with transportation and to collect testimonies. The testimonial platform – the inquiry made efforts to collect testimonies from survivors of child sexual abuse. It chose to place the survivors at the center of its discussions and to learn from their experiences and stories, seeking to understand which changes should be promoted in policy and methods of treatment and prevention. The importance of collecting testimonies is twofold: (a) it allowed the inquiry members to learn from the survivors’ life stories and abuse narratives, and to draw conclusions from these experiences; (b) it created a platform for survivors to testify about the abuse they suffered and be heard by the inquiry members, who thereby became witnesses of the abuse testimonies. The inquiry collaborated with the survivors to create a spearhead for change. It collected testimonies from adults aged 18 or older who had suffered sexual abuse in childhood (between the ages of 0 and 18). Testimonies were gathered in three ways: via an online form; in a personal encounter with a member of the inquiry; in a private hearing before all the members of the inquiry. Each survivor chose the method most convenient for them to convey their story.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Inquiry Members

The members of the Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse are specialists from a number of fields related to the subject of child sexual abuse. They are active professionally as scholars, in the legal system, as public and social activists, and in managing services in the area of child sexual abuse. The inquiry’s members have been active for many years in promoting the welfare of child sexual abuse survivors in Israel, combating the phenomenon, and improving the services provided to children and survivors.

Judge (Retired) Nava Ben-Or Retired Jerusalem District Court Judge and former Deputy State Attorney for Criminal Affairs. Judge Ben-Or is the chairperson of the Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

“For me, the inquiry brings closure. As an attorney, and later as a judge, the encounter with child sexual abuse survivors was always from the legal standpoint. The public inquiry is, for me, the place where survivors will be the focus of attention, allowing them to express their insights and experience regarding all the relevant aspects: education, welfare, law enforcement, and more – factors and considerations that often cannot be heard during legal proceedings, by the very nature of these proceedings. This is the great importance I attach to the inquiry, which can glean important insights from the personal narratives of survivors of child sexual abuse – insights that the legal system cannot produce on its own.”

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Professor Carmit Katz A faculty member at the Bob Shapell School of Social Work, Tel Aviv University, and director of research at the Haruv Institute. Prof. Katz is the founder and director of the inquiry. She studies child abuse, and as part of her work she strives to combine

academic research, the promotion of services for child abuse survivors, and activism for policy change. For her social activism she was granted Tel Aviv University’s Inspiring Scientist Award for 2016 and the Bob Shapell Award for Contribution to Social Policy in 2017. Prof. Katz is the founder and director of the International Group of Scholars Protecting Children from Maltreatment During COVID-19. The International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) recognized the group as a leader in promoting the safety of children during a global pandemic. Prof. Katz is also the chief editor of the International Journal of Child Maltreatment and associate editor of the journal Child Abuse and Neglect. “In the years I’ve been working and studying the field of child abuse, I’m always amazed by the powerful influence of the social response on the lives of children and adults who suffered sexual abuse. Throughout their lives, the survivors carry a burden of shame and guilt, and I ask myself: Shame? Guilt? The shame is ours as a society for not having protected them, the guilt is ours as a society for not having given them what they deserve, the responsibility is entirely ours! And this is precisely why I founded the inquiry – to turn attention to the life stories of the survivors, change the focus of responsibility, transfer the focus to society and its policy makers; and to effect a change, so that children in Israel can lead safer lives and are treated with respect by all those around them.”

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Yael Sherer Director of the Lobby to Combat Sexual Violence, a documentary filmmaker, and a writer; director of the Street of Her Own project and formerly CEO of the non-profit organization One of One. Sherer is a groundbreaking social activist in the field of combating sexual violence and winner of the Knesset Prize for Women Changing the World: “As a survivor of child sexual abuse, my decision to reveal my identity removed my burden of shame. In the past, speaking in the first person about the needs and experiences of survivors was unheard of and feared, but that voice should be heard. It must be heard when discussing treatment, accompaniment, and punishment.”

Social Worker Anat Ofir Director of the Initiative for Child Maltreatment Prevention at Haruv Institute. Ofir holds a master’s degree in social work from the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; she has experience working with

at-risk women and children in the Jerusalem Municipality Social Services Department and in promoting policies for child welfare. She served as Director of the Ombudsman for Children and Youth Unit and Director of the Training Department at the National Council for the Child. “Establishing the public inquiry, with the participation of the Haruv Institute, reflects the view that the life stories of the survivors contain information, knowledge, and insights that cannot be found in existing sources of information. It is therefore important that they be heard and considered when we discuss changing and promoting policies that will alter treatment in the field of child abuse in Israel.”

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Atty. Ofra Ben Meir Director of the Haruv Children’s Campus. The campus brings together under one roof eight organizations that provide services to at-risk children and their families. It operates in academic collaboration with the Hebrew University of

Jerusalem. Ben Meir holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law from Bar Ilan University and a joint master’s degree in administrative law from Tel Aviv University and Northwestern University in Chicago. She was certified as a lawyer in 2004, has served as Deputy Legal Counsel at the National Council for the Child, and managed the Program for Accompanying Child Victims of Crime. Ben Meir has lectured at the Children’s Rights Clinic of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and at Sha’arei Mishpat College. Currently she is a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Beyond the great importance of the inquiry’s work in collecting testimonies of people who experienced abuse and exploitation in childhood, I see our purpose in trying to raise awareness to sexual abuse that is silenced and unspoken. Sexual abuse always takes place in secret, it is silenced and repressed into the psyche of the child experiencing it. However, even in the rare cases where abuse is exposed, it often does not receive the social recognition that the victims desperately need.”

Tzviki Fleishman A psychologist in the public sector and a social activist in the field of child sexual abuse in the Haredi community in Israel. One of the founders of Lo Tishtok, a group raising awareness and combating the silencing of child sexual abuse. Fleishman

is the former deputy director of Magen, a non-profit organization working with victims from the religious and Haredi community in Israel. He holds a master’s degree in adult clinical psychology from Bar-Ilan University.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


“I joined the inquiry in order to have an impact and initiate change. As an activist for raising awareness of sexual abuse in the Haredi sector in Israel, I see the inquiry’s establishment as supremely important for promoting the issue, and I’m sure it will succeed in demonstrating the great need for changing and correcting the existing situation.”

Raheli Nikola – Inquiry Coordinator Nikola is a social worker with a master's degree from Tel Aviv University, where she is currently working towards her Ph.D. in social work, in the field of child sexual abuse. She has experience working with vulnerable populations: drug addicts, the homeless, women in the sex industry, and victims of human trafficking. “In my field work I’ve accompanied many women and men in extreme living conditions involving much suffering on the very margins of society. Each time anew, I’d painfully discover their common denominator – difficult childhoods suffering maltreatment and sexual abuse. The events they underwent as children, with no ability to choose, influenced and continue to influence their entire lives – lives full of suffering. Sexual abuse in childhood is not just part of their history; it is part of the life story of many women and men in society in general. The time has come to stop fearing addressing the subject and begin treating this major source of human suffering.”

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Findings of the Inquiry

In the course of ten months (September 2020 to July 2021), 505 testimonies were submitted to the inquiry in person or in writing by survivors of child sexual abuse living in Israel and over 18 years of age. Twenty testimonies were submitted in Arabic, eight in English, and four in Russian; the rest were in Hebrew. The ages of the inquiry participants ranged between 18 and 83. The average age was 36 and the median age was 34. One fourth of the participants were under the age of 27 when giving their testimony. 87% of the survivors who submitted testimonies to the inquiry were women, and about 11% were men. In terms of religion, 88.4% were Jewish, 6.1% were Muslim, and 5.5% did not identify themselves with any religion. 57% of the inquiry participants reside in the center of the country and the Sharon area; 23% reside in the north of Israel, and about 19% reside in the south and the Shfela area (the Judean foothills). Most of the inquiry participants have a university education. The number of years of education ranged between 2 and 30; the average number was 14.8. About 25% of the participants had 12 or less years of education, and about 25% had a bachelor’s degree. About 11% of the participants shared that they were unemployed, and some shared that their only income was a government disability pension.




Unclassi ed Single incident Continuous abuse


The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


A statistical analysis of the testimonies shows that about 71% of the inquiry participants reported that they had experienced continious abuse; about 25% reported a single occurrence of child sexual abuse. The age when the sexual abuse began ranged between 0 and 17. The average age when abuse began in childhood was 8. In 25% of cases, the abuse began when the child was younger than 5 years of age . Regarding the identity of the perpetrator – in about 41% of cases, the perpetrator was a person known to the child (outside the family); in 25% of cases, the abuse was perpetrated by a person in the child’s nuclear family, and in 25% of cases, by a person or persons in their extended family.



Acquaintance Stranger Family member



The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Part I: Public Systems

This part will present the major issues that arose in the testimonies collected by the public inquiry regarding survivors’ interactions with different public systems during their childhood following the sexual abuse, and in the course of their later lives. As part of their testimony, survivors were asked to describe their personal experiences in their encounters with the various systems and to convey messages regarding possible ways of improvement and policy changes in these systems, based on their personal views. The chapters in this part will discuss the health, education, welfare, law enforcement, and legal systems, as well as the income security systems. Before addressing each system in depth, we present information that provides a wider perspective on the issue of reporting the abuse and receiving services, based on a comprehensive analysis of all the testimonies submitted to the inquiry.

| 1. Reporting the abuse and receiving assistance


The abuse was reported in childhood, 41%

The abuse was not reported in childhood, 59%

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


The testimonies show that in most cases, the abuse was not reported in the survivor’s childhood. In about 41% of the cases submitted to the public inquiry, the abuse was revealed by the child or by others close to him or her, who were made aware of it. In most cases where the abuse was reported, the child told a close figure about it, such as a friend, an educator, or a family member. An important finding arising from the testimonies is that only in 21% of cases, the survivor received any kind of assistance or services in the form of treatment or a complaint filed with the police. 79% of inquiry participants said they did not receive any assistance or services.


Victim received assistance, 21%

VIctim did not receive assistance, 79%

An in-depth examination of the data reveals that for every two cases of children who reported the abuse to someone during childhood, only one child was referred to the welfare or legal systems. Furthermore, out of the children who did report the abuse and received a response from the authorities (the welfare, education, or legal systems), less than half felt that the response and service they received had benefited or assisted them in surviving the abuse, or had given them a sense that justice had been served. In other words, less than 10% of the survivors who participated in the inquiry had received an official response appropriate to their needs as children, while about 90% had suffered abuse that remained secret or was not treated properly.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


| 2. The health system A thorough analysis of the inquiry’s findings showed that the health system is highly important in shaping survivors’ experiences, both in childhood and in adulthood. The survivors sought to emphasize the central and critical role of the health system in identifying, preventing, and treating child sexual abuse. They also emphasized its role in helping child abuse survivors cope with post-traumatic symptoms in their adult lives. In over 27% of cases, survivors described the consequences of the abuse in terms of mental and physical health in adulthood and throughout life. The findings paint a grim picture of survivors’ experience of the Israeli health system. Survivors reported suffering from many health issues, some as a direct consequence of the severe and ongoing abuse they experienced, others related to post-traumatic physical symptoms. For example, they describe that their body “reacted” to the abuse and “spoke” about it, but there was no one to listen and understand that the body’s reaction and “story” had to do with the abuse. A prominent issue in the survivors’ testimonies was that no attempt was made to make their right to health accessible to them. As children, they believed they could only turn to the health system in case of a severe injury, and thus remained wounded and in pain for many years with no treatment. The survivors describe health problems such as recurring pain, digestion issues, nausea, gynecological issues, recurring infections, and so on. However, despite repeated visits to health clinics, doctors or other medical staff did not ask them whether they had been subjected to any abuse. One survivor shared that all the many diagnoses she had received in her life – eating disorders, depression and anxiety, borderline personality disorder – were the result of one thing: sexual abuse in childhood. Moreover, the findings show that in their adult lives as well, the survivors find it particularly difficult to undergo medical examinations and procedures. Medical interventions such as dental appointments, gynecological examinations, and

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


births are often experienced as intrusive, eliciting traumatic memories and generating anxiety. When such interventions are performed in the absence of a health system that is well-informed about sexual abuse and trauma, they recreate the trauma for the survivors. The survivors also describe another major obstacle in their encounter with the health system, namely – how they are perceived and labeled by the system. Specifically, survivors attest that the health system labels them as psychiatric patients, although they are in fact suffering from post-traumatic reactions to the abuse they underwent. According to them, being labeled as “psychiatric patients” reflects the system’s blindness regarding the problem that is the true source of their suffering. Survivors attest that in many cases, the treatment they received was insensitive or inappropriate to their situation, that the focus of medical staff was mainly on providing tranquilizers, and that the abuse they had experienced and its repercussions were ignored. All these caused painful experiences that arose during treatment and were not addressed, leading survivors to avoid treatment. In fact, in many cases the encounter with the health system was so unsettling, hurtful, and traumatic that survivors had to undergo a process of recovery and treatment following the medical intervention that was supposed to treat and aid them. According to survivors’ testimonies, few services in the health system provide treatment to survivors of sexual abuse, and even these few are not easily accessible. Thus, the system does no refer survivors to these services on its own initiative; the services are geographically remote; and they are not adapted to the survivors’ various cultural and religious backgrounds. Four urgent messages to the Israeli health system arise from the testimonies: (1) Mandatory training on the subject of child sexual abuse must be provided to all health system staff, with emphasis on the identification of abuse. In training programs, emphasis should be laid on knowledge, practical skills, and changing workers’ personal and professional attitudes . As shown by survivors’ testimonies, appropriate protocols must be developed for identifying and reporting children that are suspected of being victims of sexual abuse. The survivors emphasized that even when they did not report the abuse,

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


their body showed it, but the health system failed to see the signs and left them feeling abandoned. Thus, training programs must work toward changing attitudes in the health system regarding survivors of sexual abuse, so as to prevent the recurrence of harmful interventions. (2) Survivors indicated the necessity of reforming health services to a trauma-informed system . As things are today, medical interventions carry the risk of recreating survivors’ trauma. To prevent this, adaptations should be made in the health system to increase the focus on practical tools for intervention in the context of sexual abuse. (3) Inequality in the health system – frameworks and services must be developed that are tailored to the needs of sexual abuse survivors from all parts of Israeli society – both from Israel’s geographical periphery and from different cultural and religious backgrounds. (4) It is necessary to promote children’s rights to a healthy life free of pain. This requires active work by community medical services for children. Children’s physicians in the community are the first responders in the treatment of child sexual abuse. Therefore, promoting prevention practices in community medical services is essential and can truly enhance children’s safety. | 3. The education system The education system, with its various figures, plays a central role in the lives of children in the context of child sexual abuse, as revealed in the survivors' testimonies. First, the education system is one of the arenas where abuse takes place, whether within the system or in its vicinity; educators can be the perpetrators of sexual abuse, as can other adult figures or peers in the educational frameworks. These frameworks are also a focus for reporting abuse, and most survivors shared that they tend to expose the abuse while exhibiting behavior that is harmful toward themselves or others. The education system mostly does not interpret these behaviors as potentially harmful, and the approach it takes is rather supervisory, according to the survivors. After the abuse is exposed, the reactions of the education system lie along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, survivors describe the education system and the figures in it as the ones who saved them, physically or emotionally. On the other end of the spectrum, the system’s reactions are described as hurtful, dismissive, denying, or inappropriate.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


The testimonies yield a number of practical recommendations regarding the education system: (1) Mandatory training on the subject of child sexual abuse for all educational staff, with emphasis on a number of specific aspects. The first aspect is continuous training , that is, training staff both in the first stage of acquiring the profession and providing updated training programs over the years, in which participation will be mandatory and a condition of educational staff licensing. Another aspect is the need to promote up-to-date knowledge alongside skills and attitude change among educators, in order to improve the identification of sexual abuse while also advancing child-appropriate interventions. The third aspect concerns the need to provide training programs and develop practical skills for educational staff adapted to all parts of Israeli society , taking into account children’s cultural, religious, and political reality. (2) The education system must provide the children enrolled in it – from kindergarten to high school – with appropriate lessons that will focus on preventing abuse, discussing children’s rights, and providing information regarding services available to children and the people to whom they can turn in case they experience abuse . The survivors emphasized that above all, the education system must tell children about their rights, as per Israel’s signed commitment to the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The survivors further emphasized the need to provide information that can actually contribute to the prevention of sexual abuse, for example: that abuse can be perpetrated by women as well as men, or that while being subjected to abuse, a child may not react due to shock or fear. Many of the survivors indicated that programs they encountered in the education system had caused them feelings of shame and guilt. Thus, for example, if they were taught that they should scream or run when subjected to abuse and they didn’t do so, they were left feeling a great sense of failure, shame, and guilt for many years. (3) The survivors emphasized the need to recognize that abuse can occur in educational frameworks as well , whether by educators or by the child’s peers. The survivors requested that educational frameworks implement active programs for preventing such abuse and manage cases of maltreatment with transparency and accountability. (4) It should be noted that the survivors saw educators as essential, important, and central figures in the child’s life. Therefore, there is an urgent need to strengthen the significant role of educational figures in the lives of children so that they

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


can assist the child in prevention, identification, response, and treatment. (5) Based on this recognition of the importance and centrality of the education system, survivors expressed their anguish regarding the absence of the education system from the range of service providers after the abuse is revealed . Survivors attested that from the moment they reported the abuse to a confidant in the education system, due to the “sanctity of the investigation,” that person disappeared from their lives and never mentioned the abuse or spoke of it again. Among the survivors, this disregard and disappearance was experienced as extremely harmful, leaving them feeling alone and isolated in an impossible struggle for survival. | 4. The welfare system Most of the testimonies submitted to the inquiry described stories of abuse that were not reported to the authorities in childhood. Out of all the testimonies, only in 17% of cases, the abuse was reported and the welfare authorities became involved. In these cases, two central themes emerged: the survivors’ perception of the welfare system, and their experiences in the child protection system, of which the welfare system is a part. The survivors’ testimonies yield a number of practical recommendations regarding changes that should be implemented in the welfare services to promote child protection and intervention in cases of sexual abuse: (1) awareness of children’s rights in the welfare system should be promoted, leading to decision making based on children’s rights. Intervention processes should include child participation in a manner that suits the child’s life contexts. (2) The welfare system should shift its focus to child protection , making the investigation of sexual abuse one element in the process, rather than its essence. To this end, survivors indicated the utility of exemption committees (in which welfare officers request a temporary exemption from reporting the case to the police so as to allow more time for treatment) and their potential for the appropriate protection of children. They also noted the importance of accessibility of child advocacy centers for all child victims. (3) The child investigation practices , both in the Child Forensic Investigation

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Service and in the police, should be reformed to trauma-informed services and should be adapted to children’s life circumstances. (4) A continuity of services should be created, from the moment the abuse is reported and throughout the child’s intervention, in order to preclude situations where the child lacks protection, worsening their trauma. (5) The survivors indicated the need for a single agency responsible for child protection and for coordinating and synchronizing between the different systems. They described feeling extremely lonely and abandoned in their encounters with the different systems. They thus emphasized the urgency of establishing one system of child protection with a protocol ensuring the child is accompanied from the moment the abuse is reported and throughout all the steps of the intervention. | 5. The law enforcement and legal systems Some of the testimonies submitted to the inquiry mentioned the law enforcement system and the legal system in the context of child abuse. Notably, in a relatively low percentage of testimonies (9%) a concrete inquiry was made to the law enforcement system, such as filing a complaint with the police or opening an investigation by a child investigator; in most cases, the abuse was not reported to the legal authorities or investigated by them. Survivors shared how they chose not to avail themselves of these systems due to fear for their emotional survival and the harm they may experience from these systems, based on what they had heard from others. The low rate of contact with the legal system is extremely concerning, and clearly, as part of policy change on child sexual abuse, deep thought must be devoted to creating a conceptual change among children and survivors regarding the legal system as an agency that benefits them. An analysis of testimonies of survivors who did turn to these systems reveals three major themes: proceedings that were not adapted to the survivors of the crime, a need for validation and justice, and fear of the toll criminal proceedings may take.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Children often report abuse in an attempt to stop it, and are not aware of the possible repercussions. Many survivors attested that contact with the law enforcement and legal systems caused them harm, in some cases amplifying the original trauma and adding to it. The experiences they underwent in these systems were described as objectifying ones; the survivors felt that the systems used them as objects to satisfy the need for evidence. In this encounter they again felt unseen, and if something did happen to protect them, it occurred without their participation, above their heads and without seeing them. The survivors wish to be seen and asked what they would prefer and what they need. The testimonies show that survivors understand that the system has many limitations and complexities in operating and constructing a criminal case. However, they need mediation, honesty, and the availability of professionals to answer their questions, even if the answers are complex. From the desk sergeant to the police investigator, to the attorney, to the judge: all bear the responsibility of seeing the children who have suffered sexual abuse, speaking with them, and listening to them. All have the power to assist the many children and survivors. It is the moral obligation of every professional to assist children in the context of child sexual abuse, or at least avoid traumatizing them further. Many survivors attest that experiencing the criminal proceedings is more important that a verdict or a conviction, because “punishment doesn’t help healing” (a 27-year-old participant who suffered abuse since the age of 4). What helps them overcome the abuse is trust, visibility, and validation. The solution involves a holistic view of the child following abuse and coordination between all the professionals who meet these children. It entails restoring, as far as possible, the power to choose, which the survivors of sexual abuse so desperately need. The survivors who decided not to file a complaint said, “I’d like to” but “they’ll cut me up.” They say, “It’s an ordeal.” They’d like to receive aid, but in their view, the systemic changes implemented so far for those maltreated in childhood are not sufficient for them to feel seen. The testimonies of the survivors reveal that despite the Rights of Victims of Crime Law, which recognizes a series of rights of crime victims in criminal proceedings, including: the right to protection, the right to information, the

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


right to presence and accompaniment, and the right to express an opinion, there is a wide gap between the law and their actual experiences . This gap is also the subject of the Berliner Committee report. Consequently, the Independent Public Inquiry recommends implementing victims’ rights in the law enforcement systems, specifically: 1. The right to information: supposedly, in cases where an attorney is appointed to represent the victim, there should be no issue with accessing information. However, even in these cases the attorney does not always receive records of court sessions; attorneys do not receive notifications on the postponement of sessions, and their presence at sessions is not strictly observed. When the victim is not represented, their situation becomes much more difficult. “The process should maybe be made clearer. I don’t know whether my parents had information and they concealed it from me, but as a kid I didn’t know what was going on with that security guard, whether he had been punished. I didn’t really understand the process. But I was 11… I guess they kept it secret from me on purpose.” 2. The right to dignity: it is vital to ensure that victims of child sexual abuse are not harmed by any party in these systems, particularly during cross-examination. It must be recognized that offensive and disparaging remarks, such as calling a girl on the witness stand a “temptress,” are unacceptable. 3. Participation and representation: today, the law allows providing legal assistance to victims of serious sexual offences from the moment a bill of indictment has been filed (a memorandum of law has recently been submitted proposing that eligibility for assistance be expanded so it begins at the moment a complaint is filed). However, unfortunately, to this day there is no inalienable right to representation for a crime victim, despite the fact that the State Attorney’s Office does not claim to represent the victim and their interests, but rather the public interest. The Berliner Committee recommended that a social worker be appointed

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


to accompany victims, but even this solution has not been allocated a budget – not to mention legal representation. Victims who have filed complaints cannot receive documents from the file in case of a gag order, despite the fact that court rulings have explicitly stated that gag orders are intended to protect the victim, and not to protect the proceedings from the victim. On the other hand, victims often discover details from the bill of indictment after it has been published, without having been asked whether there are details they’d rather not disclose since the disclosure may violate their privacy. It should be emphasized that these conclusions are particularly important in the case of sexual abuse by a family member, since in such cases the conflict of interest is clear and obvious, harming the right of the minor (the victim) to justice. Thus, for example, letters sent to the family home of the minor, which contain information on proceedings, or a letter summoning the minor to an investigation, may not reach the minor’s knowledge or may cause them significant distress due to the fact that their family, including the perpetrator, are aware of the letters. “A lawyer should be appointed to each minor who files a complaint against a family member! There’s no point in contacting the minor through the family or welfare services in such a case. There should be someone whose job it is to consider solely the good of the minor and not the good of the ‘minor and their family,’ which is what happens in the welfare services.” 4. The right to protection: it appears this group of rights is not implemented properly. Victims attest that they do not feel protected during criminal proceedings. Today, victims are not entitled to state their opinion regarding remand of the suspect – as if this issue has no impact on the safety of the victim. Similarly, in arrest reviews the victims are not asked for their opinion. In other words, the impact of the perpetrator’s release – to home arrest or other detention alternatives – on the victim is not taken into account. Factually speaking, the leading value in this context is rehabilitating the perpetrator. Not only does this negatively impact the victim and their surroundings; it signals that, from the legal

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


system’s point of view, the offence is not so serious. Furthermore, as attested by victims, it seems difficult to protect minors testifying in court under cross-examination. We should note that it is not our intention to protect victims from the pressure and fear of taking the witness stand. We take issue with interrogations that involve harassment of the witness. In the most extreme cases, the court does nothing more than warn the defense team. The State Attorney’s Office, on the other hand, does not hasten to object and protect the witness, perhaps because it does not consider this to be part of its role, or perhaps because it does not wish to be seen as seeking to undermine the defense.

“On the witness stand – stop attacking the victims”

“Testifying in court is very traumatic! There should be accompaniment, integration, someone to hug the witness – that’s important.”

“All the courts know how to do is to recite the letter of the law: the perpetrator has the right to defend himself by revealing the victim’s personal psychotherapy journals written by the therapist to the defendant’s representative and to the judge… the struggle is so exhausting, from so many different angles, that it causes the victim to internalize the potential of keeping silent. Just living, without being alive. That’s how I’ve been living for quite a few years.” “The process of testifying, and the confrontation with the perpetrator, was destructive, inconsiderate, and didn’t see me, the victim, at all, only using me as a witness in the case.” 5. The right to justice: it is no secret that legal proceedings are lengthy, causing a significant delay of justice to the victim, particularly in the case of a minor. It should be noted in this context that criminal proceedings conducted in juvenile court are even lengthier, as part of the policy of rehabilitating the offender and without considering the rights of the victim.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


In this context, many survivors mentioned feeling insulted by the short sentences given to their perpetrators and raised the urgent need to increase the severity of punishments. “Of course, the encounter with the police was very tough. I didn’t have to testify in court because he confessed to most of the things. And of course, in a country like ours, the trial lasted a year, at the end of which he got nine months of community service, which he also managed to get out of.” “More rigorous legislation and enforcement, without attempts of the State Attorney’s Office to reach ridiculous plea bargains.” Finally, it is impossible to overstate the central importance of a trauma informed justice system , meaning training for professionals in the legal field: one of the main recommendations of the Berliner Committee was to train legal staff regarding trauma and its impact on the victim. This recommendation is clearly reflected in the testimony submitted to the inquiry: “In terms of legislation, I think the subject of symptoms should appear in the law. There’s the problem of evidence, and the mental health issues caused by the abuse damage the victim’s credibility. Another thing is that I think that the police should have more understanding of psychology, what condition the plaintiff arrives in, is she able to speak.” “Training for judges is a good and important thing! They should come to know us beyond the papers, beyond the testimony… they should understand that just because someone is hospitalized in a psychiatric ward following sexual abuse, that doesn’t mean her judgment and cognition are faulty and that just because of the hospitalization, she can’t be believed.” “The court, too – they should explain to the child that what’s been done to him is wrong, and that he has rights, and that he’ll get the support he needs to have those rights realized.”

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


| 6. The welfare system The survivors sought to highlight their difficulties finding work and supporting themselves and acquiring an education. Coping with a serious post-traumatic disorder on a daily basis sometimes makes it impossible to invest in building a career and working steadily. Of course, this has a direct impact on survivors’ economic condition, and some find it hard to survive financially. About a quarter (24%) of the participants noted they encountered financial difficulties in their adult lives due to the abuse they suffered. 50% encounter difficulties functioning at work and about 40% have monetary expenses on psychotherapy. About 11% of the participants subsist solely on a disability pension. The testimonies reveal the pain of survivors suffering economic difficulties due to dysfunction following the trauma. Some live in poverty and suffer hardship, while others are entirely dependent on their disability pension, which does not suffice to cover their living expenses and certainly does not cover treatment expenses. Following are the main recommendations: 1. The State of Israel signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, stating its commitment, on both the national and international level, to provide security to all Israeli children. It must therefore compensate victims of child sexual abuse, since responsibility for the abuse lies above all with the state, which failed to protect them. 2. It is necessary to implement a major reform in procedures for receiving official recognition that one is a survivor of child sexual abuse . The recognition procedure, as it is conducted at present and as described by survivors, is humiliating, inappropriate, inaccessible, and recreates the trauma. The procedure should be made accessible, trauma-informed, and aware of child sexual abuse in all its stages and aspects. 3. As part of the reform, the recognition process should begin automatically from the moment the perpetrator has been convicted of an offence of specific severity, even if the recognition is temporary. The process of recovery and support for the victim should begin as early as possible.

The Israeli Independent Public Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


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