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The number of reported sexual assaults by minors on minors has increased by 170 percent over the last nine years, with 500 teenagers reportedly assaulted by other teens in 2009 alone, according to an Education Ministry report released yesterday.

However, many assaults are not reported, warned the document, which was issued ahead of a week devoted to combating sexual assault among minors.

The rise in reported sexual attacks on and by minors highlights the shortage of guidance counselors and psychologists who should be helping students and schools to handle such cases, ministry officials said at a news conference yesterday. About half of all elementary schools have no counselors, and half of all psychologists' positions are unfilled.

During the last school year, the ministry's psychological service received 612 requests for advice from schools regarding sexual assaults on minors, 500 of them perpetrated by other minors. However, the actual number of assaults on children and teens is believed to be much higher, because schools are not obliged to report or request advice for every incident, the officials said.

The data show that 18 percent of the 107 reported sexual assaults by adults on children were perpetrated by teachers. About half of last year's reported assaults took place in elementary schools and 15 of them in kindergartens. Most of the juvenile sexual offenders - 91 percent - are boys, who also make up 45 percent of the victims.

The week's activities will include lectures for pupils, teachers and parents about safe Internet use. "The children must be taught to use the Internet with caution, like they are taught not to open the door to strangers," said Hila Segal, who heads the ministry's unit for preventing sexual assault.

The report comes a day after a dozen teenage boys from the north of the country were remanded to house arrest on suspicion of raping a young girl over the course of four years since she was 10 years old.

The suspects, aged 14 to 17, were arrested over a week ago on suspicion of rape, sexual assault, extortion and threats. A covert police investigation had been triggered by a school counselor and then the social services in the girl's hometown.