From a bit of a distance, they appear to be pastel-colored flowers, arranged in neat rows right beside the pool at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. A closer look reveals that these are not flowers at all, but dolls, hundreds of them dressed in pastel-colored clothes, many with matching hats.
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The curious onlookers who venture even closer seem to be recoiling, though.
What they see is that some of the dolls are missing arms and legs. Others have parts of their body bandaged up, with bloodstains showing through the white gauze. Others have bruises on their faces and upper body parts, while still others have their mouths sealed with duct tape. The most ghastly looking item in the installation is the doll missing her entire body. She’s been decapitated, and all that’s left is her head.
“Shocking,” one woman passing by remarks, as the message suddenly hit home. “I was just about to take a picture and post it on Facebook, and I was thinking about something clever to say -- maybe something about how even older women like me never really overcome their attraction to dolls when I suddenly understood what this was all about. Now I feel sick.”
This conceptual art installation and its not so-subtle message are part of a new campaign to raise awareness of child abuse in Israel launched by ELI – The Association for the Protection of the Child. The installation will be on display at Tel Aviv’s main city square on Thursday and Friday, and from there will move to an online, print and television advertising campaign.
“Child abuse is something that people don’t want to see,” says Dr. Hanita Zimrin, president of ELI. “The goal of this campaign is to get people not only to see, but to report and to help.”
A large poster set up next to the installation warns: “Abused children can become abusive parents.” According to Zimrin, about 70 percent of abused children ultimately become abusers themselves.
What motivated the new campaign, she said, are disturbing figures on rising incidences of child abuse in Israel. “It used to be that we would see an increase of 15 percent a year, but that was more because people were reporting cases, not because there was an actual increase in prevalence. In the past 5-6 years, we’re seeing a very big increase in some forms of abuse, particularly sexual abuse.”
Among the curious passersby on Thursday morning, a few hours after the campaign has officially been launched, is a group of journalists from China. “It definitely catches the eye,” says Luna Shen, a reporter from Shenzhen, who has taken out her camera to shoot some photographs of the unusual sight.
Ava Szilagi, a former New Yorker, is walking her baby in a stroller through the square, when she suddenly pauses to take it in. “I had a feeling this was what it was all about,” she says. “You’re drawn to all the color and light, and then when you get closer you see that it’s not what you thought it was. To me, the message is that often we don’t really see what’s happening with these children.”
Yariv Twig, whose advertising firm came up with the concept, said the installation is meant to put child abuse on the public agenda. “Anyone who looks should understand that these dolls were abused by the children who own them, who were acting out after they themselves were abused,” he explains.
According to Zimrin, awareness of child abuse in Israel is relatively higher than elsewhere “but still not enough.”
“The child in Jewish tradition is the center of the family,” she adds, “but sometimes that’s a problem in itself because people just assume that everything’s OK.”