Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sexually Active Religious Youth

What a depressing article. Ynet reports on the serious and increasing problem of sexually active religious children in Israel - particularly in the Dati community. Datim are the Israeli version of modern Orthodox Jews who are mostly but not exclusively religious Zionists of varying degrees.

Not only is sexual activity increasing among their children - the age where it begins is dropping. Descriptions of the behavior of some of these young people are shocking. The internet – followed very closely by TV - seems to be the major factor impacting this phenomenon. And although this article was about Israeli religious youth, I fear that a parallel situation might be happening in the US.

This is a real dilemma for those of us who believe in not over sheltering our children. How do we allow our children access to these things and not destroy them in the process? I have never accepted the Charedi approach which is basically a complete ban on the internet and TV. That’s because a complete ban is impossible and it makes it more of a forbidden fruit. Aside from that the internet and in my view even TV has positive value that should not be discarded. But – as I said - it does set up a dilemma for us.

Setting up rules for using the internet and watching TV are a necessary component. But that doesn’t seem to be enough.

There were some experts on the subject interviewed in the article and they had some interesting things to say. Some of them shocking! Here are some excerpts:

Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha'arei Mishpat College and member of the Takana forum fighting sexual abuse in the religious sector, has studied the phenomenon and stated in 2007 that 95% of sexual offences in Jerusalem were performed by the religious and haredi.

"Several years ago, I began looking into the issue on a data-based level," he said. "It turned out that the law enforcement authorities, both the police and the prosecutor's office, were aware of the data but refused to expose it based on sectorial affiliation in order to avoid branding a certain group in the population. The fact that all the hearings on these types of offences were held in closed doors and subject to gag orders prevents issuing accurate data."

Nevertheless, Hacohen continues to methodically gather informal information and has categorically determined: "This is a wide-scale phenomenon which is no less prevalent than that in the non-religious sector. For example, most of the serious incest offences within the Jewish sector in Jerusalem are performed within the religious society. This is topped by the bond of silence, the severe modesty rules creating increased sexual tensions and lack of sex education, helping the phenomenon to grow."

When asked why as an expert he thought this was the case – he responded with the following:

"Firstly, promiscuity is growing in certain sectors which have turned it into an ideal state, a lifestyle which is not to be ashamed of; secondly, the availability of pornography. In the past, access to porn entailed effort and now with one click of the computer minors are being exposed to the most hardcore materials. When it comes to the religious sector, there are also more specific causes: The bond of silence, or more accurately the bond of silencing, causes the issue to not being addressed openly. Minors are not aware of the dangers and when such a phenomenon is exposed many rush to conceal it."

There is no question about it. The increase can be traced to the easy availability of pornography on the interent and the constantly decreasing standards of decency on TV.

But I would still caution against thinking that completely avoiding the internet and TV is any kind of guarantee against this phenomenon. That is the case in Charedi circles. But they have these problems too. As I said the ‘forbidden fruit’ nature of banning it completely makes it more attractive to those with any kind of curiosity. It is not all that difficult for a Charedi teenager with a natural and healthy curiosity to find a friend or acquaintance who has the internet in his or her home and get all caught up in it there – long before parents become aware of it.

In fact this problem extends far beyond the Jewish world. It is the same as it is for all of decent society religious or secular that has high standards of moral behavior. We live in a world where sexual activity has not only become acceptable but is even being promoted as a positive cultural value.

There was an expression back in the sixties that was the mantra of my generation. ‘If it feels good - do it!’ That is now the standard for much of popular culture. This hedonistic attitude is the exact opposite of our Torah mandate.

The world is truly divided between those of us who have high moral standards and those of us who have very little. The latter of which controls the entertainment media that provides the vast majority of content on TV with little to no moral guidelines. And the internet has no standards whatsoever. It is a medium that the worst of society’s dregs can use to offer the worst kind of pornography to anyone with a mouse – including innocent 9 year olds!

I have no answers for these problems. I continue to insist that the Internet is far too valuable to ban and that there is enough positive value on TV to not ban it either. But I fully admit the dangers that lie in both of these media. One thing is certain however. Something needs to be done on a communal level to prevent the kinds of things described in this article. Or this problem will explode to an unprecedented level.

Post script: I should hasten to add that the internet and TV are not causes but facilitators. There are indeed tens of thousands of internet users and TV owners that do not in any way fall victim to these kinds of problems. But if one has a predisposition toward it for any reason - be it genetic or environmental - the pornography on the internet is there for them. And the low standards reflected on TV help to legitimize the behavior too.

Updated: 3:27 PM CDT