On August 13, 2015, G, also known as Jessica, a 36-year-old immigrant from the FSU, prostituted for 15 years at Tel-Aviv’s infamous 98 Ha’Yarkon Street brothel, committed suicide rather than endure one more night’s repeated rapes. Her death and the events it triggered continue to impact Israel society.
ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT) immediately posted a death notice, common practice upon losing a loved one, and also organized a 900-person commemoration march lamenting her tragic death and protesting the so-called “profession” that was its cause. TFHT was also a critical player in the swift issuance of an urgent petition to the Tel-Aviv Magistrate’s Court requesting closure of the brothel. Member organizations of the THFT facilitated Coalition for the Fight against Prostitution, as well as thirteen MKs, joined the petition. As result, the brothel was closed for the maximum period permissible by law. The police and the courts were waking up to the problem as some months later, another brothel well-known to law enforcement, located at 36 Yitzhak Sadeh Street, too was shut down.
Nine months following G’s suicide, the first National Survey on Prostitution in Israel, commissioned by the Ministries of Social Affairs and Public Security, was published. Referencing data collected as of 2014, the survey revealed there are approximately 11,600 prostituted persons in Israel. An estimated 95 percent are female; most are Jewish, Israeli mothers over 30 who entered prostitution for financial reasons. On average they see six clients daily. While some members of the public would opt to regulate prostitution as a legitimate industry, the survey revealed 76 percent of its victims seek escape, making a clear case that protective and rehabilitative legislation be adopted and the criminal industries that permit human beings to be trafficked into a life of sexual slavery dismantled.
In the year since G’s suicide, TFHT has authored the most comprehensive piece of legislation proposed to date, outlining annual costs for support services, enforcement, and income sources. Based on Nordic Model law, the international standard designed to criminalize pimps and johns and protect the prostituted person, THTT’s proposed bill has garnered broad cross-party support so necessary to legislative change.
A year has passed – from a “wake-up call” to a true “call to action”
On August 25, 2016, TFHT organized a memorial event around the anniversary of G’s death to remember her and the nearly 12,000 others who remain trapped and demoralized by prostitution. Approximately 300 people participated and considerable press coverage tracked our activities. Significantly, on the eve the gathering, Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services, Haim Katz, went on record to support legislation to criminalize johns, except in cases where the perpetrator is a minor. Though this falls short of a full endorsement of TFHT’s bill, it is a considerable step in support of TFHT’s lobbying efforts which will coincide with the start of the Knesset winter session in late October.
G’s tragic end lifted the veil cloaking public misconception that women choose prostitution, a falsehood perpetrated, in part, because pimps pay and threaten prostituted women to lie on record to convince themselves and others that prostitution is a choice. While we will report on the event and its implications in greater depth in the coming weeks, we want to share with you some recent news commentary in response to our efforts:
- English: August 28, 2016: Jerusalem Post
- Hebrew: Channel 2 interview with TFHT Co-Director, Adv. Avital Rosenberger-Seri
- Hebrew: Channel 10 television interview with TFHT Co-Director, Reuma Schlesinger
Photo credit: Oren Ziv, Activestills
What have we learned and how can you help?
What have we learned? In the past twelve months, public awareness of the evils of trafficking and the abuses of prostitution has grown exponentially; high-profile instances of the suffering of prostituted women have attracted much media coverage, as have the instances of the sexual abuse of women by public figures; and the culture of business-as-usual buying people for sex is slowly beginning to be seen as unacceptable. If you are not already part of TFHT’s Project 119 online campaign to help pass progressive legislation to criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services in Israel please do so today! For information on how to sign-up, click here!