Number of Israeli Children Sexually Abused by Their Brothers Doubles

1,258 reported cases last year, compared to 691 the year before.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Child hiding face in illustrative photo of child abuse.
Sexual abuse of children by their brothers has doubled in a year, 2015 study finds. Credit: Ilan Asayag
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The number of children reported to have suffered sexual abuse by their brothers nearly doubled last year over the previous year — 1,258 in 2014, compared to 691 in 2013 — according to Ministry of Social Affairs figures obtained by Haaretz. These figures are based on complaints reaching social workers across the country.

The ministry started investigating this matter two years ago, and no statistics are available before then. “This topic was hushed up for years due to its sensitivity, with many people preferring to keep it within the family out of fear of the implications,” says Hava Levy, a social worker who counsels youth. “In recent years professionals have started to understand that this is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed. The rise in reporting is a result of our focusing on this problem. I assume we’re only scratching the surface.”

The ministry currently operates six centers for protection of children and adolescents who were subjected to sexual or emotional abuse. There they receive preliminary care. These centers were opened over the last five years, and two more will open in 2016. “Research into incest usually referred to fathers molesting their children, but professionals realized that many such cases of molestation were committed by brothers of the victims,” adds Levy.

Over the last 18 months a study was carried out that provides the first data on sexual abuse of their brothers. The study, conducted by Dr. Dafna Tenner of the Haruv Institute, which studies child abuse in the family, found that in 130 cases of sexual abuse by a brother, the average age of the victims was nine, and the average age of the offenders 14. In 96 percent of the cases the offenders were boys, with 67 percent of the victims being female.

“It happens a lot in families and people aren’t sufficiently aware of the problem,” says Dr. Tenner. “There is usually a large age gap between offender and victim, but with several siblings the victim often starts abusing younger siblings.”

The most common type of abuse involves touching private parts under the clothes (46 percent), with 35 percent of cases involving the touching of clothed private parts. In 11 percent of the cases there was penetration, and in eight percent there was indecent exposure of private parts.

“This phenomenon wasn’t talked about 2-3 years ago but we now see a rise in the number of cases. It doesn’t mean that there are more, only that we are getting to more families,” says Haruv Institute director Prof. Asher Ben-Arye, who has been dealing with child abuse for more than two decades. “One parent told me something I can’t forget, making me understand why it’s so hard to report these cases. ‘You expect me to go through Solomon’s judgment with my children.’ Professionals also have to learn how to deal with this.”

“Even though this seems to be very common, the professional literature doesn’t deal with it very much,” says Tenner. "Society interprets such abuse as curiosity or sexual games, causing this abuse to be under-reported.”

Three patterns of abuse found

Three patterns of abuse emerged from the study: the “identified offender” in which an older, stronger brother abuses a younger, weaker one; a "normative routine" in which the two siblings hide their activities but accept them as normal; and a “deviant routine,” in which the siblings understand that their behavior is wrong.

In some cases studied, the brother molesting his sibling brought along his friends to join in the abuse.

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