Monday, April 10, 2006

(Israel) Elem: More than 1,000 youths work as prostitutes

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By Ruth Sinai
Haaretz - April 6, 2006

The number of teenage prostitutes in Israel increased last year and now exceeds 1,000, according to a report compiled by Elem: Youth in Distress.

Elem is a nonprofit organization that helps runaway, homeless and neglected Jewish and Arab youth in distress.

The number of homeless girls, some of whom work as prostitutes, consume drugs and alcohol and are involved in violence, has also increased.

Elem released these figures yesterday as it launched its annual fund-raising campaign via SMS.

This year the organization is focusing on delinquent teenage girls, after its volunteers encountered more such girls in the street.

"Unlike boys, who vent their distress being violent and aggressive, and dropping out of school, girls handle pain by hurting themselves, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies," explained Elem chair Nava Barak.

According to Elem, 25 percent of the 750,000 youths aged 12 to 18 in Israel are at risk. In 2005 37,000 youths dropped out of school, 40,000 police records were opened against youths and at least 10,000 boys and girls lived in conditions of neglect and squalor.

Last year the number of veteran Israelis who turned to Elem for help increased significantly. Currently some 50 percent of the girls in the centers are veteran, compared to 30 percent of the boys. In previous years the main increase was in new immigrants.

The number of teenage streetwalkers has also increased. Erim Balaila (Awake at Night), a special center to prevent teenage prostitution in Tel Aviv, helped 137 youths last year, compared to 90 in 2004. Elem reported that 22 of the youths that entered the program left the streets following rehabilitation.

The center provides youths involved in prostitution with facilities to rest, take a shower, get a hot meal and talk to a trained professional. There is also a hotline, manned by the staff and 15 volunteers so that youth can get help when they are in immediate need.

"The new trend of 13-year-old girls selling their body is not prevalent only among poor people," says Zion Gabai, Elem director general. "Girls from good families also try it out, sometimes as a form of rebellion and often due to a deep-seated feeling of being victims. These girls are in distress and emotional anxiety, and use their sexuality to strengthen their self confidence," he says.


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