ATZUM mourns the passing of Righteous Rescuer Orna Shurani

During the Shoah, Orna, together with her sisters Olga (1922-2006) and Malvina (1926-2010) and mother, saved more than 25 Jewish men from a work camp in Hungary by finding them hiding places and providing them with food. Thus, she brought life to countless, future, Jewish generations. We are privileged to have extended assistance to her for the past 16 years and to have accompanied her to her place of burial.

May her memory be for a blessing for all Israel and all humankind.

You can read more about the Csizmadia sisters here.

Abe and Gert Nutkis Scholarship – Accepting Applications for 2017-18

We are now accepting applications for the AGN Scholarship for the academic year 2017-18. Applicants must be Israeli citizens. Please share with friends and colleagues. Details of the scholarship and the application process can be found on our website:

Hebrew: http://atzum.org/hebrew/projects/agn-scholarship-hebrew/
English: http://atzum.org/…/abe-and-gert-nutkis-scholarship-for-isr…/

If you have any questions, please write to: agnscholarship.atzum@gmail.com

A Brief Primer on Prostitution in Israel

The Knesset 2016 Winter Session has just commenced and will soon consider legislation prepared by TFHT and Government Ministers spanning both sides of the political divide. In advance of this extraordinary opportunity to advance Nordic Model legislation in Israel and leading up to International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25), TFHT has prepared a Legal Primer (Vol. II) outlining  in simple term the very complicated legislative process.

 

A Brief Primer on Prostitution in Israel
Prepared by the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, 
an Initiative of ATZUM – Justice Works and Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar
(Volume II – October 2016)

 

Prostitution’s Legal Status in Israel

In Israel it is legal for adults to purchase and sell sex. However, purchasing sexual services from a minor is punishable by three years in prison; pimping carries a five-year sentence; and it is illegal to traffic in persons, own or operate a brothel, or advertise for sex.  Despite existing law to define and police prostitution in Israel, demand continues to increase and enforcement is minimal, leaving Israel’s flesh trade a thriving industry where the average age of entry is 14.

First National Survey on Prostitution in Israel

The Ministries of Social Affairs and Public Security recently published the first national survey on prostitution in Israel. The survey of 600 adult females in prostitution refers to data collected up to 2014.  Below are select findings:

  • There are between 11,200 and 12,000 people in prostitution in Israel, 95% female.
  • 1,260 minors were found to be active in prostitution.
  • 62% of women surveyed reported being mothers, 80% of whom have children under 18.
  • 65% of women surveyed reported having less than 12 years of education.
  • 52% of women surveyed were born in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 97% are Israeli citizens and 86% are Jewish.
  • There are approximately 670 adult sex websites, reflecting a shift in procurement.
  • The primary reason reported for entry into prostitution was economic hardship.
  • 80% of the women working in brothels, “discreet” apartments, massage parlors and on the street have expressed a desire to leave prostitution.

It was estimated that Israel’s sex industry handles NIS 1.2 billion ($308.2 million) annually. The Social Affairs Ministry’s current budget for combating prostitution is NIS 22 million ($7.5 million), two-thirds earmarked for dealing with minors, though many maintain current laws protecting the underage are inadequate and difficult to implement. From the data we see that while Israel has succeeded in appreciably decreasing trafficking into the country, Israeli women of low socio-economic status continue to be drawn into the world of prostitution.

Worldwide Legislative Models for Addressing Prostitution

The most discussed ways to address prostitution in Israel include attempting to regulate it as a commercial industry, or modifying current law to criminalize its purchase and decriminalize the prostituted person, nearly always a girl or woman coerced into sexual servitude.

  1. Realities of Legalization and Decriminalization: Legalization includes making lawful activities involved in and surrounding prostitution, often imposing “industry-specific” regulations. Countries and states that have legalized prostitution include: Senegal (1969), states in Australia including Victoria (1994) and Queensland (1999), the Netherlands (2000), and Germany (2002). Decriminalization includes repealing all laws or provisions against prostitution. Countries and states that have decriminalized prostitution include the Australian State of New South Wales (1995), and New Zealand (2003).[1] Below is a look at some of the realities in countries that have legalized or decriminalized prostitution:
  • Holland – After legalizing prostitution in 2000, only 1,000 of Holland’s estimated 30,000 prostituted persons were able to meet the legal criteria to be identified as licensed sex workers, thus falling short of providing relevant protections. Moreover, the government and non-profit organizations reported a steep rise in illegal forms of prostitution, particularly trafficking and child prostitution.
  • Germany – Germany legalized prostitution in 2001. In 2010 government officials reported sex trafficking into Germany had drastically increased as the country had become a more attractive market for traffickers and pimps. Additional information here and here.
  • New Zealand – Prostituted people in New Zealand reported legalization hadn’t financially empowered or protected them from violence, and women’s organizations expressed concern over the many young girls who continue to enter into prostitution. Additional information here.

It has been demonstrated in many countries…that prostitution cannot be effectively regulated, and that legalization does not bring emancipation to those trapped in the sex trade. According to the US State Department, “Where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking…and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.”


 

  1. Criminalizing the John, Protecting the Prostituted Person – The Nordic Model:

Legislation based on the Nordic Model — the international standard designed to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person — has been adopted by Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway and, most recently, France. The model asserts that:

  • Prostitution is a violation of human rights as its target has been relegated to a base commodity for market exchange, like any other object for sale and trade.
  • There is a direct link between human trafficking and the proliferation of prostitution.
  • The most effective way to combat both trafficking and prostitution is to reduce the demand for paid sexual services.  

 


Legislation based on the Nordic Model has proven itself an effective deterrent to potential sex buyers in countries that have passed it. Moreover, these countries have witnessed a significant decline in all forms of prostitution, including sex trafficking and child prostitution.


 

  1. TFHT is Created: The Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution was created in 2003 as a joint initiative of Israel NGO ATZUM – Justice Works and the law firm of Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar to engage the Israel Government, enforcement agencies, and the public to confront and eradicate human trafficking and prostitution by lobbying for legislative reform designed to protect the victim.  TFHT is the only initiative focused entirely on bringing about legislative change related to trafficking and prostitution in Israel.
  1. The 17th Knesset: In 2008, Knesset Member Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) proposed the first version of the The Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services and Community Treatment Bill based on Nordic Model legislation. TFHT worked intensively with MK Gal-On to develop and promote the bill. However, before it could move through the legislative process, the Knesset disbanded after two years and eleven months of its four-year seating.
  1. The 18th Knesset: The 18th Knesset opened on February 24, 2009. Three years later, after considerable lobbying efforts, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously approved a second version of the bill proposed by MK Orit Zuaretz, with whom TFHT worked intensively for many years. The Committee’s endorsement revealed a readiness of Israel’s government to begin to more seriously address the demand for sexual services. Unfortunately, while the then ministers supported the law, some of their ministries’ staffs opposed it, and the proposed bill did not complete its first reading before the Knesset’s dissolution in October, 2012.
  1. The 19th Knesset: Leading up to and throughout the 19th Knesset, which lasted less than half its designated term, TFHT managed, with unrelenting effort, to secure further progress, bringing to the table three MKs from parties of radically different political orientation — MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), and MK David Tzur (HaTnuah). The government’s vote to dissolve on December 8, 2014 and call for early elections was a blow, though it motivated us to build on past momentum and use the time to collaborate with other NGOs to expand the reach of the proposed legislation.
  1. The 20th Knesset: The 20th Knesset was sworn in on March 15, 2015. After working assiduously to sustain past legislative gains following the disbandment of the 19th Knesset, TFHT was able to maintain the cross-party collaboration between MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz), in support of Nordic Model legislation. Our revised version of the proposed legislation is more comprehensive in terms of recommended budget and rehabilitation/enforcement needs than previous, leaner versions.

 

Specifics of TFHT-Authored Proposed Legislation

  1. The legislation assumes that every male found at brothel is there to purchase sexual services.
  2. If someone is caught purchasing or attempting to purchase sexual services, they will face up to one year in prison and a fine of not less than 1,250 shekels ($325).
  3. If a man is convicted of going to a brothel in order to purchase sexual services, and the court doesn’t award damages to the prostituted person, the court is obligated to explain its decision.
  4. The legislation seeks to offer a wide range of rehabilitation options for prostituted persons

 

Where Things Stand Today

It is difficult to move the Knesset and Israel’s political machines toward action, though THFT has remained steadfast in the effort. We anticipate the previously stalled legislative process will get underway as the Knesset’s winter session is about to commence. The bill in question can be introduced by:

  1. The Government (“Government Bill”)
  2. One or more Members of Knesset (“Private Member’s Bill”)
  3. A Knesset Committee

To become law, a bill must pass numerous readings, each of which is adopted or rejected by a vote of the Knesset members present in the plenum. Between each reading, the bill is discussed and modified by relevant Knesset committees. After passing the third reading, the bill is published in the Official Gazette and becomes a law of the State of Israel. The majority required to pass a bill varies according to the nature of the proposed legislation. If the government supports TFHT’s proposed bill, a simple majority of MKs present and voting will suffice. If the government does not sponsor the TFHT proposed bill, then the support of at least 50 MKs will be required.

Presently, the Ministry of Justice, through reluctant to add another offence to the penal code, is deciding its official stand on this subject. Notably, the Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, as well as Haim Katz, Minister of Welfare and Social Services, have publically indicated support for significant portions of our bill.  TFHT is currently focusing on making the case for the Ministry of Justice to promote this legislation as a Government Bill, making the road to ratification shorter and easier.

 

Additional Information

Links to research and information regarding prostitution, the Nordic Model, and the quest to reduce demand:

  1. Who buys sexual services? Sex buyers come from all segments of society! The Growing Demand for Prostitution – Newsweek 
  1. Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution and a Legal Response to the Demand for Prostitution – Professor Janice G. Raymond 
  1. Prostitution Research and Education – This site calls for the eradication of prostitution and for providing prostituted persons with viable alternatives.
  1. Machon Todaa – This site provides visitors with up-to-date information about prostitution in Israel.
  1. Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – This site gives an overview of prostitution and sex trafficking around the world.

————————————–

For more information or to communicate with Adv. Avital Rosenberger,

please contact TFHT at info@TFHT.org or visit our new website at www.tfht.org

[1] Equality Now: “Does Legalizing Prostitution Protect Women and Girls?

As Prostitution Goes Online, Clients Come Out of the Shadows

Abuse more, pay less: The internet is the new pimp.

Vered Lee, Oct. 20, 2016, Ha’aretz

“Something is twisted inside, mediocre sex like in a puppet show, you have to work too hard,” “A midget, not a great face, a bimbo,” “Suggests sex with her husband present; older, looks terrible.”

These are detailed descriptions of prostitutes from their clients’ perspective. The “critiques” were submitted by a member of the online Hebrew portal Sex Adir (“Great Sex”), aimed at consumers of sex for pay. These descriptions, which included nicknames identifying the women, were accompanied by a call for a “consumer boycott”: “If every one of us would stop going to girls that don’t deliver the goods, the results wouldn’t be long in coming,” the writer suggests.

As in many realms, the internet has also changed the way sex is consumed. Nowadays a client can get information about a “discreet apartment” or arrange sex for pay on his own in a manner even more private and discreet than in the past. Moreover, the anonymity the internet provides allows clients to find each other, support each other, disseminate information and conduct themselves as a community. In other words, the internet is the new pimp.

“When we speak about the sex industry, there’s a type of triangle – the prostitute, the pimp and the client,” says Yeela Lahav-Raz, who wrote her doctorate on the Sex Adir portal, which contains several different forums. “In the past the pimp had a lot more power in this equation because he was the one who mediated, traded and sold. Today a sex client can surf the site, which acts as the pimp in terms of making information accessible. It has also shifted a great deal of power to the sex consumer at the expense of the pimp.”

The Sex Adir website has 28 forums divided into different categories based on venues (street prostitution, discreet apartments, strippers’ clubs); preferences (older/younger prostitutes, transgender prostitutes, homeless prostitutes at the central bus station); and geographic areas.

Lahav-Raz, 36, who teaches at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and at the Tel Aviv Academic College, says the Sex Adir portal has 18,764 registered users, all consumers of sex for pay, and that over the past year there has been a sharp increase in their number. “When I started my research six years ago there were around 11,000 users,” she says. “In the past year alone there were 4,000 new ones. This is a very large increase, and of course does not reflect the overall number of sex consumers in Israel, only those who choose to share their experiences on the forums. Most sex consumers don’t share.”

Lahav-Raz became interested in the sex industry a decade ago, when she was doing research for her master’s degree on the sociology of the home and its significance for the homeless teens being helped by a center for young prostitutes run by the Elem association for youth in distress.

“I had planned to write my doctorate on teen prostitutes,” she says. “But when I went out to the street for the first time with the Elem car that cruises through areas of prostitution, I was struck by the presence of the johns. When we think of prostitutes we think of the prostitutes, but the client is faceless and nameless, an amorphous, abstract entity, protected by the gloom.”

One objective of her research was to analyze the significance of the texts written by the sex clients. “On the surface the declared purpose of the forums is purely consumerist in nature,” Lahav-Raz explains. “‘I’m a consumer like any consumer and I want to get better service at a lower price.’ And how do they achieve this? By uniting as a consumer community … through which they can exert pressure to reduce the prostitutes’ prices.

“But that’s just the declared, open purpose,” she continues. “In fact, the forums serve as a confessional for sex consumers. The internet facilitated their transition from single, isolated consumers to an active community of anonymous members. Because of the anonymity component the sex consumers can share their sexual experiences. They also share the difficulties they have – for example impotence during sex with a prostitute or guilt feelings about cheating on their partners, the fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, fear of being caught, and more. What has developed is not just a confessional space, but a type of support group that serves as a therapeutic self-help environment.”

Lahav-Raz divides the sex clients on these forums into three groups – the consumer, the hunter and the addict. The consumer has a neoliberal, capitalistic outlook and is aware of his power as a consumer who aims to “improve the terms of service.” Many prostitutes are in fact aware of the forum and know that they will be subject to criticism and oversight, she says. “They know if they don’t give ‘good service’ as defined by the forum members they will get bad reviews that could harm their livelihood.”

The hunter holds antiquated ideas about the man as the hunter and conqueror, she says. “They call the prostitutes names like ‘street cats’ and ‘street dogs.’ It shows that they see them as wild animals … which makes it legitimate to use force with them and relate to them as inhuman.”

The addict, she says, “defines himself as a victim responding to his drives. Defining himself as an addict frees him from all moral responsibility because from his perspective it’s like a drug controlling him. They are focused on their own suffering.”

She says that these users get support and sympathy from the group. “The empathy is not for the prostitutes, but for themselves.”

Lahav-Raz has also examined how prostitutes react to these online discussions.

“It’s clear that this environment multiplies the resonance of the exploitation and humiliation, since suddenly 19,000 people are reading about people’s sexual experience with the prostitute, ranking her body, reading about how her genitals smell and about their weight and whether their home is dirty – these are all things clients write about.”

But interestingly, she notes, the forum also provides a platform for the prostitutes to fight back.

“Prostitutes have slowly begun to enter the forums and respond,” says Lahav-Raz. “During an actual encounter with a client they would never react that way; he might not pay, he might rape her or get violent. But in the online forum they dare to and are able to express themselves.”

Lahav-Raz has identified ways in which the prostitutes have begun to use these forums strategically. “One of the amazing things is in their posts they try to hit back at the clients, often with humor; they rank the client to show them how it feels to be ranked. They write, for example, ‘The client was hairy, he smelled awful, he was stingy and argued a lot.’ They are using the same tools. I don’t believe that this breaches the wall or brings about a change in the power structure, but this is a very intelligent use of this arena, demonstrating their understanding of the discourse and concepts, in the hope that it can provide
 little sisterhood.”

 

How a courageous woman journalist exposed the duplicitous acts of a human trafficker/pimp and how you can help!

Notorious Israeli human trafficker and pimp turned real estate mogul has been identified, again. Help the woman who was brave enough to speak his name a second time.



No one forced him to do it.

David (Dudu) Digmi, described by Tel-Aviv District Court Judge Chaled Kabub three years ago as “… the central figure in the largest network in Israel trafficking in women, with operations and connections overseas” got himself in legal hot water all on his own. As reported by “Haaretz”, “The network [uncovered in 2009] smuggled hundreds of young women from small villages and towns in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia and Uzbekistan after convincing them to come to Israel.” These unsuspecting women were lured by the promise of work in legitimate industries, many trafficked against their will. “In some of the cases the traffickers, including Digmi, used severe violence against the women,” as they were shepherded surreptitiously from country to country until arriving in Israel.

After his actions came to light and the case uncovering the network’s activities went to court in 2013, Digmi was neither jailed nor fined as his underlings were; instead he managed to slither away, becoming a state’s witness and police informant. Ironically, Digmi thrived as he made swift use of the spoils accumulated from his international trafficking and pimping, reinventing himself under another name, as a partner of a purportedly legitimate business — Urban Real Estate (URE).


No one forced her to do it.

sharon-shpurer

Sharon Shpurer, former Haaretz journalist

Digmi continued to operate in this fashion, hiding in plain sight, until a courageous journalist, Sharon Shpurer, who had written a series of investigative reports for “Haaretz” and “TheMarker” relating to Digmi and his partners, exposed him on her Facebook page, calling URE “dubious” and urging the public not patronize the company due to its owner’s former crimes. Sharon was immediately hit with a NIS 1.68 million ($440,000) SLAPP suit filed by URE.  Though such lawsuits – intended to censor, silence, intimidate and bully critics by burdening them with crippling legal action – are prohibited in some countries on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech, in Israel they are allowed.  

While Digmi’s new name was subsequently released by Rotter, an online news forum, despite the continuing gag order forbidding its publication, Sharon and Sharon alone remains the target of a vicious libel lawsuit. Her courage and unwillingness to silently allow this man to accumulate additional wealth using ill-gotten gains derived from prostituting girls and women have placed Sharon in legal and physical peril. Her struggle is our struggle — the struggle for freedom of speech, and the struggle to protect victims of trafficking and prostitution.


What is TFHT doing?

Established in 2003, the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT), a joint initiative of Israel NGO ATZUM-Justice Works and the law firm Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar, aims to eradicate human trafficking across and within Israel’s borders and ensure passage of Nordic Model legislation, the international standard designed to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person.  Our devoted professionals and volunteers have worked relentlessly with the last four governments in pursuit of legislative change toward the eradication of prostitution and human trafficking and legal enforcement of laws already on the books.

TFHT’s recent and continuing efforts to legally shut down a Tel-Aviv strip club, a front for a brothel prostituting trafficked girls and women, have led to recent threats of violence directed anonymously against the Task Force. This pressure notwithstanding, KNK, as TFHT’s partner, is providing Sharon with pro bono legal representation. (Haaretz is unwilling to do so.) The latest court decision determining that URE’s name can be connected to Digmi is a huge legal win made by TFHT/KNK and a significant step in helping Sharon’s case. 


What can you do?

  1. Sign the Hebrew petition, created by Israel’s Journalist Association, to help fund Sharon’s possible payout if she loses her libel suit. To date, 4,414 journalists, public figures, Members of Knesset, celebrities, and the general public have signed on to potentially pay a portion of her fine in the event that Sharon is financially penalized.
  1. Join TFHT’s Project 119 to help pass progressive legislation to criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services in Israel. Project 119 is an email campaign that matches individual MKs and Government Ministers with Israeli and Diaspora online activists. If you have five free minutes a week and want to help, Project 119 is for you!
  1. Advance TFHT’s work through your financial support. Funds are needed both in 2016 and in the coming year to help fund our legal, legislative, advocacy and educational efforts.


Thank you for acting today!

The Task Force on Trafficking and Prostitution
A project of ATZUM – Justice Works and Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar
development.atzum@gmail.com


PS:  Look for news of TFHT’s upcoming event when we award Sharon Shpurer ATZUM’s Ot HaDror Award recognizing public opinion makers and leaders who strive to abolish modern-day slavery. Past recipients include Dalia Dorner, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel; Zahava Gal-On, Knesset Member (Meretz); Adv. Rachel Gershuni, Israel’s National Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator; Orli Vilnai, Israeli journalist and Channel 10 anchor; and Orit Zuaretz, former Knesset Member.


Journalists rally in defense of ex-Haaretz reporter hit with crippling libel suit

Journalists Rally in Defense of ex-Haaretz Reporter Hit With Crippling Libel Suit

Nati Tucker, Aug 11, 2016, Ha’aretz

Thousands of Israelis have promised to put up cash to help an Israeli journalist facing millions of shekels in legal fees for libel for posting a disparaging Facebook update about an Israeli developer who is a convicted human trafficker.

In the space of less than two days, more than 3,000 people, mostly journalists and but also members of the public, have rallied to the defense of Sharon Shpurer, a former reporter for Haaretz and its business daily, TheMarker. Organized by the Journalists Association, the supporters committed each to pay 560 shekels (about $150) to defray the cost of any judgment rendered against her so-called SLAPP suit filed by Urban Real Estate, which had been owned by David (Dudi) Digmi, a figure who was convicted of trafficking women. The signatories’ commitment was conditioned on 3,000 people ultimately signing on.

On a cumulative basis, the commitment would amount to about 620,000 shekels. For purposes of comparison, 400,000 shekels was raised within a day in a crowdfunding effort to fund the defense of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter for shooting a prone and subdued Palestinian terrorist. In Shpurer’s case however, the commitment secured was to defray a portion of a future judgment against the reporter rather than a contribution up front in her defense.
The lawsuit against Shpurer is seen by some as a so-called SLAPP suit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation designed to silence or intimidate. The suit by Urban Real Estate is seeking damages of 1.68 million shekels in connection with several comments that Shpurer posted on her Facebook page in which she called the company “dubious” and called on members of the public not to patronize the firm due to its owner’s former crimes.

Shpurer had written a series of investigative reports for Haaretz and TheMarker relating to Digmi and his partners. Digmi was arrested and convicted in Belgium of trafficking women. He then fled to Israel through the Netherlands were he again faced human trafficking violations, in addition to a rape charge. Digmi then became a witness for the state and most of the charges against him were dropped. Shpurer’s Facebook post referred to a real-estate company which Digmi founded during the time of his offences.

The commitment signed by those supporting Shpurer read as following; “I willingly take upon myself the possible financial responsibility to support free journalism in Israel, the public’s right to know and the desire to create a public force against the threats being posed to journalists attempting to hold big money accountable through such a SLAPP suit.”

Opposition lawmaker Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union), who as a filmmaker also faced such a suit, voiced his support for the initiative, saying “I recommend that all those who hold free press dear to join and help Sharon Shpurer in her battle against the SLAPP suit filed by the Urban real-estate company.”

Remembering G and reflecting on the year following her August, 2015 suicide

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:

g-memorial2

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!

In Israel’s Prostitution Industry, the Women Supervisors Get Exploited Too

Non-sex work at a brothel is still selling sex. Plus there’s the danger of a violent customer, while male managers make the big money. If only Israel’s courts understood.

Vered Lee,  Jun 17, 2016,  Ha’aretz

Over the course of a year, Meital, a 35-year-old single mother, ran a brothel – a “small and solid” place, she says. “I rented a simple furnished apartment in a poor, neglected and crumbling building. I published an ad and employed a woman as a prostitute. I started with one and moved on to two as things developed,” says Meital – all the women’s names have been changed for this story. “The place was open from 9 A.M. until 4 P.M., when I would answer the phone from my other job, and when there wasn’t any interest in the morning, the place was open in the evening.”

The picture she describes is similar to the one painted at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court last month when a ruling legalized prostitution on the condition that the venue be rented by several women together, or by one woman who invites other women to join in. Meital was one such woman. She rented an apartment and ran her business.

Actually, Meital went into that business due to a raft of crises in her life. These included a violent partner, rape, physical and emotional wounds and drug addiction. She worked for minimum wage and started the brothel to finance her drug habit. After a year, she says, “a known criminal arrived. He asked for protection money and I refused.” Her visitor then locked her and her two employees in the apartment for three days. “I reached an understanding with him,” Meital says. “He would open a big brothel and I would manage it.”

This is how Meital became the manager of an establishment that employed 12 women as prostitutes, but she didn’t enjoy the promotion. “I made mounds of cash – some 100,000 shekels [$25,900] every month – but everything went to the drug dealers and was spent on shopping as a way to compensate. I was unhappy, desperate. Today I feel like throwing up. I’m very ashamed of what I did.”

She served a prison sentence for pimping and running brothels after refusing a plea bargain that would have commuted her sentence if she turned in the man she worked for. “I preferred to keep quiet because it was clear that if I mentioned his name I wouldn’t remain alive,” she says. Meital’s story is one example of a trend in response to stricter legislation against trafficking in women in recent years: The men stay behind the scenes and put the women out front in managerial positions.

According to Roni Shapiro, the director of Israel’s rehabilitation unit for female prisoners, “The men still run everything and control everything, but from a distance, from a safe place. The women move to the forefront, and they’re the ones in danger of being jailed.”

The judge’s dream world

Most brothels in Haifa and the north are run by women, “behind which hides a male world of criminals,” Shapiro says. “The women are at the bottom of the hierarchy and remain exploited. Even when they’re supposedly advancing to a secretarial job – manager of a brothel, pimping – the men are still the ones who take in the big money.” Shapiro says she doesn’t know of a case in prostitution in which women run their own place. “Those who bring them into the position of brothel manager are men. He’s the origin of the wealth, he’s the one who pushes everything from behind the scenes, and many times he doesn’t let the women stop,” she says. “The cooperative of women in prostitution without a pimp like those the judge legalized simply doesn’t exist. If they tried to create such a model, the criminal world would take control of it in an instant and use them as pretty faces.” Stav, who began her journey in prostitution during her military service, says it’s not a one-way street and some women go from prostitution to management and back. It’s convenient to have women in management because “it’s an outsourcing of the masculine pimping institution.” She too helped manage a brothel and stopped a few months ago. She remembers the efforts to mollify her.

“The owners of places keep special lawyers,” she says. “I remember that a well-known lawyer in the field came and briefed us at the brothel – what to say in case of a police raid. He encouraged us, saying there was nothing to be afraid of. The owners pay the fines and they run a strong system of persuasion.”

Putting women out front is also convenient because they can use a motherly approach to win the trust of prostitutes. Neta, 26, started working at 21 as a secretary, and after two months moved on to work as a prostitute. “I wasn’t in touch with my mother and the pimps recognized my needs very quickly. We would drink coffee after work and meet on Fridays and Saturdays; she would come to my place and I would go to hers,” Neta says. “When I had financial troubles she gave me a loan and another loan. This mother type of pimp is a game, and when my eyes opened I realized she didn’t really care about me; it was a tactic. She only cared that I made her as much money as possible.” Over the past six months, Neta was rehabilitated with the help of a program run by the Social Affairs Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality.

“There are women pimps who are cruel and exploitative and do things in a rough way, and there are some who use a honey trap,” says Lilach Tzur Ben-Moshe, director of Turning the Tables, a group that helps women who leave trafficking and prostitution. She says women who work as pimps “bring warm food to the hostel and try to create a ‘mama image.’ It’s not unusual to hear young women say about a female pimp who’s very exploitative: ‘She’s like a mother to me.’” “They give loans to women and act as if it’s purely out of a desire to help, when actually they enslave them with the interest payments,” she says.

Hierarchy of earnings

Stav says there’s a crucial difference between a receptionist and being a manager. “A clerk sits in the brothel, surrounded by telephones and women,” she says. “She answers clients’ phone calls with a warm, caressing and sensuous voice, and essentially markets the prostitutes to them – details on which sex acts they perform. She entices the client to come to the place.”

The receptionist is responsible for the cashbox and daily operations, and usually she receives base pay of 300 shekels per shift plus tips. Some places don’t give base pay and the wages come from the tips paid her by the prostitutes (if she supplied them with more clients), and bonuses from the owners, depending on the number of clients. Stav says that for a 12-hour shift, base pay ranges from 500 to 1,000 shekels, and on weekends at the big brothels it can be as much as 3,000 shekels.

The directors oversee the receptionists and are responsible for recruiting the women and running the business. They’re in charge of payments and advertising, and the incoming cash is delivered to them. They make anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 shekels per month. “Because all these places are equipped with a network of cameras and microphones, some of them supervise everything long-distance,” she says. “They watch their employees and make comments. Others come to the place and oversee everything from up close.” Naama Zeevi-Rivlin, manager of Saleet, a Tel Aviv shelter for prostituted women, says a very thin line separates the women’s roles. “We have clients who were in prostitution, and when they got pregnant they became receptionists. As soon as someone is suddenly missing for a shift, they’re called in to fill the position,” she says.

“Being a receptionist is like being a prostitute, only verbally – she isn’t physically touched, but she has to sell sex and seduce the customer. They’re under a lot of stress because of the potential dangers – a police raid, a violent customer bursting in, and just the fear and shame of being exposed. It’s a steep emotional price.” Zeevi-Rivlin says the court’s decision gives criminals a legal way to keep on hiding behind women in prostitution and women pimps, as if these women were operating independently.

According to Anastasia, who works as a prostitute, “Everything has changed. It used to be that pimps would buy women and pimp them like animals — drug them, imprison them, beat them up. And now you have girls that used to be exploited in prostitution exploiting other women.” She herself once ran a brothel and says she knows a woman who runs four places in Tel Aviv. “But I know there’s a man behind it and it all really belongs to him. She’s just a puppet,” Anastasia says. “She rents the location and does a renovation that costs 100,000 shekels. What women in prostitution has 100,000 shekels? Even if she worked for 20 years, she wouldn’t save that much.”

 

The Coalition Against Prostitution Statement Regarding the Closing of the Brothel at Yitzhak Sadeh 36, Tel Aviv

The Coalition Against Prostitution
Statement Regarding the Closing of the Brothel at Yitzhak Sadeh 36, Tel Aviv

On Monday, May 30th a verdict was finally given regarding the brothel on 36 Yitzhak Sadeh Street, Tel Aviv. His Honor Judge Hermelin’s ruling is an excellent example of the anomaly that exists in Israel’s current prostitution laws. In a feat of legal gymnastics, the judge arrived at the only possible conclusion of the proceedings, a 90-day shut-down of the brothel (the maximum amount of time allowed by law).

We welcome the closure of any brothel. This is especially true regarding the closing of the Yitzhak Sadeh brothel, one of the largest and well-known commercial sex operations in Tel Aviv. We are of course aware that the brothel will likely resume its activities after the 90-day period and its customers will be directed to another brothel in the meantime, as was the case with the closure of the 98 Hayarkon brothel following the suicide of one of the prostituted women there. Shortly after the closure, the clients were referred to another brothel on Levinski Street. That said, we hope that this will provide a window of opportunity, even if for just one woman, to leave the cycle of prostitution.

The message of the verdict is clear: the voices of women in prostitution are important and our current laws do not offer them real solutions for coping with the trap of prostitution. Yes, for many women prostitution is a trap. The law addresses only offenses associated with prostitution that have significance to the “public order,” but do not address two key aspects of the issue – the customers who fuel the “sex industry” and the women desperately in need of help to escape it.

This legal lacuna creates a complicated judicial reality that is exploited by pimps, and allows for the de facto legalization of prostitution. It is the women in prostitution, who suffer from emotional, physical, domestic and social abuse, who pay the price for this situation.

According to Judge Hermelin’s ruling, if a number of women decide tomorrow morning to collectively establish a “sex cooperative,” they should not be prosecuted. As professionals deeply familiar with this legal process and having worked for years to provide psychosocial, medical and legal aid to women in prostitution, we know that this ruling ignores the facts of the reality. In reality, there is no free will in prostitution; and there is no prostitution without subjugation to another person. In reality, the road to prostitution is fraught with perpetual violence – be it physical, sexual, emotional and economic – against its victims.

A verdict that precludes the closure of brothels run by women and exempts law enforcement agencies from thoroughly investigating their avenues of exploitation is a significant step in the direction of the legalization of prostitution in Israel. In order to prevent the institutionalization of prostitution, we must act immediately. The time has come for the Knesset and government to support the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services and to provide for the rehabilitation of prostitution victims as well as the prevention of prostitution through education on human dignity and gender equality. We commend Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who expressed his support for such legislation.

Coalition Response Hermalin verdict

Reaching Across an Ocean to Help Survivors of Terror

In our Care: The recent increase in terror on Israel’s streets brings a return of familiar fear and dread, triggering a collective trauma experienced with particular force by those whose lives were previously upended in its wake. Here is the story of the B family, in our care for many years, and the outreach provided by project coordinator, social worker, Tamar Hatzir.  

In 2008, a katyusha rocket landed in front of then 8-year-old Koby directly outside his family’s modest home in the south of Israel. Koby has an older sister, Orit (today, 19) and a younger brother, Gabrielle (today, 13).  Following the attack, Koby changed from a friendly child with a sense of humor to a socially introverted, overweight teen. He is considerably dependent on his mother, during the day, and on his father, with whom he sleeps. Koby suffers from nightmares, nighttime incontinence, and debilitating anxiety, common complications for those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Koby is afraid to walk alone or travel by public transportation; his mother must either drive or escort him by taxi to school. Last year, after a long struggle with the educational authorities, his mother was able to arrange for Koby to go to a new school better able to serve his special needs. The family is still fragile and needs the help provided by Tamar, who notes:

“The Roberta Project helps the family on a number of fronts: first, I am assisting Koby’s parents to better respond to his PTSD while remaining available to deal with the needs of his siblings, and to maintain their own marital relationship which had deteriorated considerably over the years. Second, I am working one-on-one to help empower his mother to take better care of her health problems and return to the work force. Also, after working with him for two years, I am pleased Koby’s situation is improving, as he is now willing to play in the street with other children. Third, we have provided the family with food vouchers during the holidays to make life a bit easier.”

EmmaFishbein

Emma Fishbein

Thanks to Emma – From “Dawn to Healing”:  Meet Emma Fishbein, the Chicago teen who recently became a Bat Mitzvah. To mark the occasion, she asked her friends and family not for presents, but to help her raise money for ATZUM’s Roberta Project by sponsoring her in an 18-mile swim.  Emma set as her target $2,500 and has to date raised over $4,000! The funds will help people like Efrat (“To be Healed” in Hebrew), a girl who grew up with the name Shachar (“Dawn” in Hebrew) who was injured in a terror attack a decade ago. Read about Emma’s successful campaign sponsored by Root Funding  and Efrat’s story of how and why she changed her name and the healing that is still ongoing. Emma’s generosity is not surprising; she comes from a caring and munificent family that has helped raise funds in support of the Roberta Project for the last several years.  To Emma and her family – Kol Hakavod, (“All of the respect!”). May you be an example for others.