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.

Recognizing Righteous Rescuers in Israel and Poland

Channeling critical practical and human resources to “Righteous Rescuers (Hasiday Umot Olam) living in Israel who risked their lives to save Jews during the Shoah.

This population is aging and shrinking. Though there are only nine family units currently living in Israel, all are dear to us. Beyond visiting them regularly in their homes – of profound value to them – ATZUM serves as an advocate to ensure that other entities tasked with the responsibility to respond to the population’s practical needs do so, and step in when there is no other resource.  

IMG-20151012-WA0004

Photo; Tsila Lavi-Shalom, Coordinator of ATZUM’S Righteous Among the Nations Project, with program recipient.

Beyond this, we are now involved in a volunteer effort to coordinate a holiday and birthday card project from Israeli and gap-year students to Righteous Rescuers (Hasiday Umot Olam) in Poland.  Volunteers, with logistic support from ATZUM, will encourage schools and youth movements in Israel and abroad to join this effort. Their students will learn about the Righteous Rescuers’ heroism and then prepare cards to be distributed to them on their birthdays and holidays.  This initiative will be undertaken in conjunction with Polin – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Polin is in touch with 300 Polish citizens who rescued Jews during the Shoah.

TAKUM Currently Facilitating Three Betei Midrash

Beit Midrash TAKUMEngaging community professionals and grassroots volunteers in Israel and abroad through a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth Jewish learning with activism.

TAKUM is a partnership with Yeshivat Talpiot, an egalitarian yeshiva committed to facilitating critical, open engagement with Jewish text and social crisis as a means of influencing activism. TAKUM, hosted at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, seeks to bring Torah study to the streets in ways that urge action on behalf of others in need. This year, the project’s third, study and public service are focused on aiding Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers, as well as victims of prostitution and human trafficking.

This spring brings new energy to Beit Midrash TAKUM with the launch of two new cohorts: one in Jerusalem for established, experienced young professionals already involved in fields of social change, and the other for young students from Tel-Aviv University.

The Jerusalem cohort of 13 Fellows from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds work as teachers, social workers and community organizers. Some have previous experience in Beit Midrash learning.

The Tel-Aviv cohort of eight Fellows from Tel-Aviv University is quite different. All come to the Beit Midrash without experience with Jewish text study. All Fellows in this cohort volunteer in three Tel- Aviv NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers, including:

Simultaneously, TAKUM’s first Jerusalem cohort of religiously diverse university students and recent graduates with minimal activist experience began in October 2015. Fellows in this cohort (as in the Tel- Aviv group) receive a modest stipend for their participation; undertake serious volunteer roles in lieu of tuition; and assist with refugee relief efforts and as part of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution. This cohort is currently deeply involved in its volunteer work.

In March TFHT Fellows collaborated with student activist groups to organize a Hebrew University hosted public debate on prostitution in Israel society. Panelists included MK Shuli Mualem from Bayit Yehudi, a religious Zionist political party, and three speakers from NGOs dedicated to stopping prostitution. The event enabled recruitment of new Project 119 activists. (Project 119 is TFHT’s weekly campaign pairing individual MKs and Government Ministers with volunteers urging passage of Nordic Model legislation. The time commitment is minimal; the campaign’s impact is considerable.) The panel event effectively demonstrated to the TAKUM Fellows who organized the evening how they might impact public discourse.

Photo:  Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

Photo: Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

TFHT: Progress Towards Passage

It is a difficult process to move the Knesset and Israel’s political machines to recognize the urgent need to pass Nordic Model legislation, but THFT has made much progress. Our recently drafted legislation, more comprehensive than previous, leaner versions, has garnered wide support across party lines, only to be frustrated twice by the disbandment of the Knesset and new elections. After recent months of arduous meetings with MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz) and others, we have now reconstituted and expanded that base of support in advance of the pending re-submission of the legislation.

We are cautiously optimistic: the bill’s cross-party sponsors are adamant in seeking the coalition Government’s approval; public awareness of the evils of trafficking and the abuses of prostitution has grown exponentially; and high-profile instances of the suffering and suicide of prostituted women have attracted much media coverage, as have the instances of the sexual abuse of women by public figures. And, as this report is being prepared, it was announced that Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked called for the formation of a special committee to examine the possibility of making the purchase of prostitution a criminal offence.

Despite the forward motion, we remain aware of very resistant opposition to such legislation: an annual 1.2 billion NIS enterprise has well-connected attorneys; the Ministry of Justice is hesitant to add another offence to the penal code; and the constant distractions of terror attacks, Iranian threats, and the Government’s fear-mongering produce a climate less inclined to see the priority of at-risk citizens’ concerns.

Countering these challenges is the support and inspiration which comes from our donors, pro bono partners, and volunteers who join us in insisting on the betterment of the status of women and their well-being. Together our voices bellow in protest of the daily rape of thousands of prostituted and trafficked women and girls on our streets.

In anti-prostitution battle, Israel takes a trick out of Europe’s book

Justice Ministry to mull the popular ‘Nordic model’ of criminalizing the frequenting of sex workers, but Israelis aren’t sold on the idea

MARISSA NEWMAN, May 2, 2016, THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

You may glimpse them lingering, all decked out at Tel Aviv’s decrepit old bus station, loitering around the train station in Beersheba or soliciting customers on Haifa’s coastline. But apart from the occasional headline (such as when a long-time prostitute hanged herself in a Tel Aviv brothel), tucked away in so-called “discreet apartments,” Israel’s some 12,000 sex workers in the NIS 1.2 billion ($318 million) industry are largely invisible to many Israelis.

But the issue may soon head to the Knesset: The Justice Ministry announced last week it will form a committee to evaluate whether to criminalize paying for sex, broadly modeling itself on such countries as Sweden, Norway, and, as of earlier this month, France. The director-general of the Justice Ministry, Amy Palmer, will head the committee, and representatives from other ministries will be on it as well but have not yet been appointed, according to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s spokesperson.

While prostitution itself remains legal in Israel, pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable by law. The formation of the committee follows nearly a decade of efforts by female lawmakers to spearhead legislation to criminalize clients, primarily by Meretz’s Zehava Galon. From the other side of the aisle, the Jewish Home party’s Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli has recently backed her attempts. While it remains to be seen what the committee will recommend, if anything, the unlikely pair of lawmakers has in the past suggested fines or up to a year in jail for clients, with the option for first-time offenders to attend seminars on prostitution in lieu of criminal proceedings. Galon and Moalem-Refaeli are also proposing expanding welfare services for prostitutes. (In 2012, a similar bill by Galon and Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz was supported by the key Ministerial Committee for Legislation, but the government dissolved before it could be taken further.)

However, recent polls show Israelis may not be entirely on board with punishing people who hire prostitutes, even though they believe it will discourage the phenomenon. Meanwhile, critics have warned the bid would effectively demolish the notion that women have the right to sell their bodies, may worsen their conditions as prostitutes are forced to go underground, and creates an asymmetrical justice system that punishes clients but exonerates prostitutes.

According to the first comprehensive study of sex workers by the Welfare Ministry last month, most of them are Jewish, Israeli, mothers, over the age of 30 and from the former Soviet Union, and they entered the industry for financial reasons. On average, they see 5.5 clients per day. And 76 percent want to get out.

‘Every day I want to die from this work’

The Welfare Ministry report estimated there are some 11,420-12,730 sex workers in Israel, 95% of them women, 89% of whom are over 18. Between 970 and 1,260 (11%) are minors. The figures place the number of prostitutes per 100,000 Israelis at 121-128 — less than countries such as Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Sweden; more than the Czech Republic, Ireland, Norway, Denmark.

Some 97% of the women hold Israeli citizenship, and 86% are Jewish. Most are over 30 (70%), have at least one child (62%), and a slim majority (52%) were born in the former Soviet Union. The majority entered prostitution due to financial woes (66%), and 7% due to drug addiction. One-fifth have a college degree.

Some NIS 510 million ($135 million) is made annually in the 265 “discreet apartments,” 43% of the total yearly sum (1.2 billion in 2014) generated by the industry. Escort services racked up some NIS 220 million ($58 million) and massage parlors that offered sexual services NIS 190 million ($50 million). Street prostitution generated just NIS 70 million ($18 million) in yearly earnings, some 6% of the annual total. Some one-quarter of Israeli prostitutes see more than seven clients a day (the average is 5.5), according to the report.

Financial straits were found to be the force driving women to prostitution (66%), and for most (71%) it was the reason they stay (the remaining 23% said because “it suits them”). Most of the women said they want to leave (76%), 10% said they don’t, 7% don’t know, and 7% said “not right now.”

“The kids are getting older and already asking where Imma [mother] goes at night. I can’t keep lying all the time and tell them I’m a bartender,” said one anonymous participant in the poll, which interviewed 609 women face-to-face (all are cited anonymously).

“I’m sick of it. It’s very difficult, psychologically, you know. It’s not easy every day, every prostitution experience is unpleasant, I don’t get used to it. In my mind, I’m not a prostitute,” said another.

‘The kids are getting older and already asking where Imma [mother] goes at night’
“Every day I want to die from this work,” added a third.

Some were more noncommittal. “I don’t know — when I have money, I’ll leave. At least a million,” said one.

“I wanted to, but I looked into other work. Cleaning is not suitable for me, [prostitution] sometimes is,” the report quotes a woman as saying.

“Not really. Maybe when I get older, I’ll want to leave, and then maybe I’ll be a secretary.”

Others were insistent it suits them just fine: “I feel like this is my most productive period, and I also have patience for it. Then (28 years ago), I did as if I was forced to. Life forced me to. But today I do it with pleasure.”

(For the purpose of this article, a distinction is made between prostitution and sex trafficking, with the latter already illegal, although there is likely overlap. On sex trafficking, the US State Department in 2012 upgraded Israel to “tier 1” on human trafficking, indicating that the government complies with the minimum requirements to prevent the phenomenon, while urging it to impose stricter punishments on those behind it.)

Are all prostitutes victims?

Punishing prostitution clients was first introduced by Sweden in its 1999 Sex Purchase Act, which has since been adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, and Northern Ireland, and requires consumers to pay a fine or face up to six months in jail. Defending the apparent contradiction in making buying sex illegal but selling it legal, Sweden contended that prostitution is essentially an act of exploitation and violence by the customers, who hold a position of power and should bear the brunt of the penalty.

The debate was subsequently exported outside of Sweden, leaving countries divided on the issue. “Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of myself!” a sign brandished by a sex worker on April 7 read, after France ruled a $4,000 fine would be levied on the clients of prostitutes.

Echoing the Swedish argument, Galon on April 18 maintained that “prostitution is sexual violence and enslavement of women, and in the vast majority of cases does not provide a livelihood for the women but rather for the pimps.”

“The deceptive liberal discourse about the right of women to sell their bodies ignores the power relations in the world of prostitution, and the power relations in the world as a whole. Prostitution, in its current form, can only exist in an unequal world in which it’s still okay to enslave women for men’s needs. A society that permits buying the bodies of women is broadcasting that all women can be bought,” she argued.

‘The deceptive liberal discourse about the right of women to sell their bodies ignores the power relations in the world of prostitution’
Outlining the opposition to plans to punish clients, researcher Yehuda Troan in a 2008 Knesset report noted the asymmetry in penalties was “problematic” to some.

“There are those who have fundamental reservations about the model of one-sided criminality, since it gives an exemption to the prostitutes who are also partners in the forbidden action. One-sided criminality is liable to send a message that a woman is permitted to work in prostitution, or could be interpreted as a social statement such as this, which is problematic to many,” he wrote.

Other issues listed include a problem of enforcement, since Israel’s police have a limited budget. The law will make it difficult to compile evidence, since prostitutes may be wary of cooperating and inclined to protect their clients, he argued. Moreover, a law against the clients could make it increasingly difficult for the security services to crack down on those running the operations, since it compromises the testimony of many of the witnesses, namely clients. Finally, it could force prostitutes to go underground, resulting in worse conditions, he maintained.

A September 2015 poll by the Welfare Ministry of 754 Israelis found that 54% were generally in favor of “legislation against the clients of prostitution services.” But when asked more pointedly whether clients should be “punished,” the figure dropped to 42%. The vast majority of respondents (83%) said the government ought to work to curb prostitution, but slightly more were in favor of the government permitting brothels to operate with regulation (59%) than those who support an outright ban (52%). In other words, the Israeli respondents were in favor of some sort of legislation, but likely one that wouldn’t include criminal penalties.

Support for punishing those who hire prostitutes was up compared to previous polls (22% in a 2007 Knesset poll commissioned by Galon were in favor; 43% in 2013), but the Welfare Ministry report noted that “it isn’t clear whether the change is a result of the phrasing (criminalizing vs. punishing) or that there increased support for punishing the clients.”

That isn’t to say Israelis don’t generally find prostitution harmful. Some 81% in the 2015 poll said it is a phenomenon that compromises human dignity, 70% agreed it is a social phenomenon that harms relationships between men and women, and 74% said they believed sex workers can’t leave this cycle without help. Israelis also believe the prostitutes frequently experience psychological harm (87%), physical harm (76%), rape (70%), and robbery (60%). At the same time, 55% said women have the right over their bodies, including to sell their bodies, and a majority were against punishing the prostitutes themselves (63%). And half (54%) said laws punishing the clients will reduce the phenomenon.

Touching on the disparity between public opposition and views of its efficacy, the 2008 Knesset report concluded: “Although the public’s views and expectations do not precisely forecast the legal influence, it appears the fact that most of the public does not believe that the client should be criminalized attests to a view of prostitution as legitimate and widespread dangers of noncompliance with the law, and therefore contempt of the law. On the other hand, it appears that the fact that most of the public sees that the proposed legislation will reduce the scope of prostitution strengthens the argument that the stigma of the crime that accompanies criminalizing the client — alongside educational and advocacy — is likely to effect normative, societal change.”

It also underlined a question about the relationship between the lack of public support and legislation: Should legislation reflect societal change, or create it?

The report cites Dr. Noya Rimalt of the University of Haifa, who testified in a 2007 hearing that although it’s better that public awareness drive legislation, there were cases in Israeli law where the laws drove the conversation, such as the strict sexual harassment laws in the 1990s and the ban on smoking in public areas.

“An educational process should precede legal change,” Rimalt said at the time, adding that “it doesn’t always work like that.”

NGO Report: Israel Fails to Crack Down on Human Trafficking

Government agencies aren’t cooperating enough and more sex workers are arriving from Eastern Europe than before, the report by Hotline for Refugees and Migrants says

Ilan Lior  Apr 26, 2016, HA’ARETZ

Human rights organizations are identifying far more victims of human trafficking than the state, a rights group says in a new report. According to the report, prepared by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, about 80 percent of trafficking victims from the asylum-seeker community were identified last year by human rights organizations rather than state agencies. The Hotline itself identified 28 African asylum seekers as trafficking victims who had suffered torture in the Sinai Peninsula en route to Israel. At the organization’s urging, the state recognized 19 of them as trafficking victims, and four were released from Saharonim Prison.

The report adds that last year saw a rise in the number of women who came to Israel on tourist visas from Eastern Europe and were put to work in the sex industry. It says 11 such women, after being arrested on suspicion of engaging in prostitution, were deported by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority without any coordination with the police or examination of the circumstances that brought them to Israel. Even though the administrative tribunals that deal with such cases have harshly criticized this lack of coordination, there have been no signs of any improvement, the report says.

Over the past decade, Israel worked hard to improve its handling of human trafficking in order to earn a Tier-1 ranking on the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Hotline says. And as long as Israel was trying to improve its ranking, state agencies were careful to coordinate in an effort to end human trafficking. But in recent years, cooperation between the population authority and the police has deteriorated, the report says.
As a result, women arrested for prostitution are sometimes deported even before police have questioned them to find out whether they were trafficking victims, making it impossible for the police to find the traffickers.

The recent decision to allow visa-free travel from Ukraine and Moldova made it harder to monitor human trafficking from those countries, the report says. The report notes that for the past few years, the Justice Ministry has run courses for both judges on administrative tribunals and prison staffers on how to identify victims of trafficking and torture. Still, Hotline activists have repeatedly identified trafficking victims who were missed by prison staffers and tribunal judges.

“The numbers show that the perception of trafficking as something that has been eradicated in Israel has prevented the authorities from taking action against the new face of this phenomenon,” Hotline director Reut Michaeli said in a statement. “The characterization of women working in prostitution as offenders who have to be deported, not as survivors who need rehabilitation, is problematic and reminiscent of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period when the trafficking of women in Israel was at its peak.”

The Justice Ministry said it only heard of the report when asked about it by Haaretz and wanted to study it before responding. Nevertheless, it added, the ministry department that coordinates the fight against human trafficking has overseen fruitful cooperation between all the relevant parties, including state agencies, the Knesset, Israeli NGOs and international organizations. It said this cooperation had been underway since the department’s establishment in 2006 so that “human trafficking has been significantly reduced in a manner that has gained international recognition.”

The police similarly said they hadn’t received the report and therefore couldn’t comment, adding they had no idea what the statistics were based on. But they said they were fighting trafficking resolutely in close cooperation with other state agencies and with scrupulous attention to the rights of both suspects and victims.
The population authority said that as soon as someone is identified as a trafficking victim, he or she is treated as per the regulations.

 

TFHT: Public Discourse

This year, ATZUM is increasing its reach by joining the human resources connected to two of its initiatives, TFHT and Beit Midrash TAKUM. The former, as noted, is focused on passing legislation based on the Nordic Model; the latter is a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth, Jewish learning with activism.

On March 22, 2016, three TAKUM volunteers – two law students and one social work student – collaborated with two different Hebrew University student union groups to organize a panel event attended by 50 people. The event was chaired by Adv. Michal Leibel, TFHT Director. Speakers included Tali Koral, CEO of Machon Todaa (Awareness Center), who spoke about the need to expose the actions and responsibilities of the customer in the abuse and demoralization of girls and women; and Re’ut Guy, Director of Youth in Distress at Elem, who focused on teen prostitution.

20160322-TFHT-TAKUM

Photo: TFHT-sponsored panel discussion at Hebrew University, March 2016.

The keynote speaker was MK Shuli Moalem who addressed the moral imperative for Israel society to adopt binding legislation to render prostitution and the commoditization of women unacceptable. She related to data from a multi-year study of prostitution in Israel presented to the Knesset the same day. As reported in “Haaretz” on March 6, “The first-ever government survey into prostitution in Israel found…annual payments to sex workers amounted to an estimated 1.2 billion shekels ($308.2 million) in 2014. The survey by the [Social Affairs and Public Security Ministries] found there were between 11,420 and 12,730 prostitutes in Israel that year, 95 percent of them female. The data…showed that each sex worker had approximately 660 clients a year [and] as many as 1,260 minors were employed as prostitutes or at risk of [entering] prostitution.”

MK Moalem praised the TFHT event, emphasizing the importance of public discourse on a subject too rarely discussed. Indeed, before the event, most people admitted to being unaware that prostitution is legal in Israel. Most are now unwilling to allow it to continue under society’s radar.