Paid Rape at any Cost, Even at the Expense of Human Life


Aug. 18, 2015

 Presentation1Just three hours after a prostitute killed herself in the room at a central Tel Aviv brothel where she lived and worked, the business was back in operation, customers crowding the waiting room.

G. was 36 when she hanged herself. She immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union as child and began working in prostitution as a teenager. She was one of the first sex workers to be hired at the brothel, at 98 Hayarkon St.

“Every day she would rise with great difficulty, as close as possible to the 6 P.M. start of her shift,” said Sharon (a pseudonym), a sex worker who was friends with G. “She would start the shift with four glasses of vodka and Hagigat [a brand of synthetic marijuana], and she’d do 20 to 30 Johns, on average, until 6 A.M.”

Ella, also a sex worker, said that by living in the brothel, G. had become “a slave of the sex trade,” and that she had worked 12 hours day, six days week.”

One of the oldest and best known brothels in Tel Aviv, it employs eight to 12 women per 12-hour shift. Four or five years ago, police issued a closure order against the brothel, but after a legal battle it was revoked.

“The atmosphere has become difficult and violent,” Sharon said. “The operator no longer comes here, so the guard and his wife run it.”

G. was a sex worker for nearly 20 years, and gradually she became addicted to drugs.

“I saw her crying more than once. It was always hard for her to get up for her shift, “Ella said, adding, “She always wanted to sleep. She sent the message she had nothing to get up for.”

Once week, G. would take the day off to visit her sister, whom she supported financially, Sharon said.

“When G. returned from the visit last Wednesday, it was clear she was a bit depressed. She began the shift, but after four customers, she said she didn’t want any more that night. It’s unusual to leave a shift in the middle, especially because she had never done it before,” Sharon said.

On Thursday, when G. didn’t get up for her shift and didn’t respond to yelling and pounding on the door, the brothel managers ordered the door opened. G. had hung herself.

Sharon and Ella were outraged that the brothel was reopened so soon after G.’s death.

“It’s inhuman,” Sharon said. “A woman committed suicide, it’s a tragic, terrible event, the police come, and after three hours everything continues as usual, with complete disregard for the value of human life.”

The suicide has upset female sex workers in the city and advocacy organizations that fight prostitution. A demonstration has been scheduled for Saturday at 8 P.M. outside the brothel.

Naama Ze’evi Rivlin, the director of Sla’it, a program established by the city to help sex workers, said the incident had led to a sharp increase in calls to Sla’it’s hotline.

“Women are calling to say it has triggered depression and difficult memories,” Ze’evi Rivlin said.

Tali Koral, the CEO of another organization that works to raise awareness about and to combat prostitution, Machon Todaa, said many people think prostitutes working in brothels or discreet apartments are better protected than street sex workers. This view “has no basis in reality,” she said; such women suffer the same emotional and physical violence that other prostitutes do.

Shining a Light on Injustices Suffered by African Asylum Seekers Imprisoned in Israel


August 14, 2015

The Reform movement and Jewish refugee agency HIAS called on the Israeli government to re-examine its asylum policy for African migrants.

In a news release issued Friday, North America’s Union for Reform Judaism, its Israeli counterpart and HIAS, took issue with Israel’s “anti-infiltration law,” which allows the government to detain asylum-seekers for up to 20 months in a Negev facility. They also urged Israel to offer more services for African migrants.

The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled this week that provisions of that law are unconstitutional. The Knesset has six months to revise the law, which passed its final readings in December.

Under the measure, an amendment to an existing infiltration law, illegal migrants can be held in closed detention centers for three months and then kept at the Holot open detention center in the Negev for up to 20 months.

Noting that the groups are “longstanding friends of Israel and committed advocates for the well-being of the Jewish state,” URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs questioned why Israel approves a dramatically lower percentage of asylum applications from Eritreans and Sudanese, than do other developed countries.

“We are deeply concerned because Israel currently accepts less than 1 percent of refugee claims. In other developed countries, 82% of Eritrean applicants and 68% of Sudanese applicants are recognized as refugees,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, said in the news release, adding that the groups nonetheless “recognize that, with over 5,500 asylum seekers per 1,000,000 population, Israel has had to deal with more asylum seekers than the vast majority of other democracies.”

“We urge the government to set an example by treating African migrants with dignity and respect. It is our hope that the Israeli government will allow them to contribute to the Israeli economy and society until their status is appropriately adjudicated, rather than forcing them to be housed in the desert at significant government expense or pressuring them to relocate to an unfamiliar and unsafe third countries which offers no durable solution to their plight,” Hetfield said.

The groups also called on the Israeli government to “strengthen the infrastructure of the South Tel-Aviv neighborhoods where Asylum seekers reside and to ensure proper resources are allocated to provide services both to Israeli citizens and to asylum seekers.”

Read more:

Paying the Price


July 15, 2015

By Rebecca Hughes

At least once a week, someone mistakes me for a prostitute. It started two years ago when I moved to south Tel-Aviv. At first I didn’t understand why cars were pulling up alongside me as I walked home, trailing me for a few moments and then driving away. After a few months I casually mentioned this strange behavior to one of my neighbors.

“They think you’re a prostitute,” she stated matter-of-factly. I must have looked offended, because she quickly added, “Don’t worry, it’s not just you. It happens to me too.”

Suddenly, many odd interactions began to make sense. For instance, the man who stopped me on street, insisting that he knew me.

“Don’t I know you?” he asked, looking me up and down.

“I don’t think so.”  I responded.

“Ahh…” he hesitated.

“Can I help you with something? Do you need directions?”

“Yes, yes. I need directions.”

“Where to?”

“Ahh…never mind,” he mumbled over his shoulder as he walked quickly away.

paying-the-priceMen would approach me in the middle of the day when I was on my way to a meeting, or at night when I was coming back from the gym. Sometimes I was able to laugh about it, but mostly I was annoyed and angry. Annoyed that I had to interact with sex-buyers who just assumed that a woman walking alone was a prostitute, and angry that they were permitted to purchase the sexual services they felt entitled to from women who lacked my privilege. Yes, I was annoyed and angry. But I wasn’t frightened until March 19, 2015.

It was a perfectly ordinary Thursday morning in south Tel Aviv. People were going to work, or walking to the market, or on their way to the bus stop.  On the corner of Har-Zion and Salame, less than 100 meters from my apartment, a 37-year-old woman was walking her dog. Suddenly, a man ran up to her, slammed her against the wall of an apartment building, threw her to her knees, pulled down his pants, and sodomized her.

The attack lasted for ten minutes. For ten minutes, the woman tried to fight him off. For ten minutes, she struggled and screamed as people walked by, glanced at her and then looked away, and continued along their way. For ten minutes, dozens of people who passed her on their way to work and school paid her no notice. Taxis pulled up next to where she was kneeling and then drove off. Buses drove by.

After ten minutes, one person stopped and called the police. As the sirens approached, the attacker pulled up his pants and casually strolled away.

Now let us consider why, in the warm daylight of an ordinary Thursday morning, dozens of people witnessed a vicious sexual assault in progress, but averted their gazes, closed their ears to the victim’s screams, continued texting or talking on their cell phones, and kept walking. Let us consider why no one called out to the woman to ask if she needed help. Why no one shouted at the attacker, even from a distance. Why the rape continued for ten long, horrific minutes, before one person decided to call the police.

I’ve asked a lot of people this question, and it made all of them uncomfortable. Several surmised that it was due to the “bystander effect,” a theory which proposes that when there are many witnesses to an attack, people tend to assume that “someone else” will help, or are afraid to be the first to intervene; and thus watch but don’t act, or walk away.

It’s an interesting theory to ponder. But let’s consider something even more interesting: people witnessing an attack are less likely to intervene if they think the attacker is the victim’s husband or boyfriend. In controlled experiments, researchers found that when the woman yelled, “Get away from me; I don’t know you,” onlookers intervened more often than not. But if the woman instead yelled “Get away from me; I don’t know why I ever married you,” most people just walked by. The assumption is that there are circumstances in which a man has a right to assault a woman.

And, of course, if the passers-by assume the woman is a prostitute…well, then, it’s to be expected. Normal. All in a day’s work. It’s an understandable assumption, because paying for sex is legal in Israel; and researchers have long demonstrated that in areas where prostitution is legal or tolerated, a “culture of prostitution” takes root, strengthening the idea that men’s “needs” entitle them to women’s bodies. It’s no surprise that in areas where prostitution is tolerated, rates of gender-based violence rise. A man may have to pay for the right to sexually assault a woman today, but tomorrow he may just assault her.

In Israel, the law and the associated culture have helped to create and sustain an enormous industry built on human trafficking. Thousands of women and girls—poor immigrants, runaway teens, women fleeing abusive homes, Jews and Arabs alike—are lured by traffickers. They’re recruited personally by individuals, strangers or friends, or they respond to newspaper ads promising high-paying jobs. When they meet with the prospective “employer,” they’re sold to pimps and brothel owners. Hotels provide special deals to the pimps, who hire drivers to transport the women to and from “clients.” Impoverished and imprisoned in brothels and discreet apartments, the typical victim is forced to submit to being raped by as many as 15 men a day.

For the past three years, I served as a coordinator for the Task Force on Human Trafficking, a joint project of ATZUM – Justice Works and Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar law firm.  TFHT works to engage and educate the public and government agencies, lobbies for reform in the areas of prevention, border closure, protection of escaped women, and prosecution of traffickers and pimps. The effort to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel has proven to be an uphill battle. Recent allegations that a member of the Knesset has been involved in pimping and drugs only underscore the complexity and deep roots of Israel’s human trafficking industry.

On March 19th a woman was violently attacked in broad daylight, and dozens of witnesses did nothing. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. Israelis in general, and residents of Tel-Aviv in particular, have determined that the monetized sexual assault of prostituted women is acceptable. But it is not just the women in prostitution who suffer society’s callousness and apathy. All women will pay the price. What happened that Thursday morning in March in my neighborhood happens every day, and in many neighborhoods: people looked at a woman, and saw a commodity.


Rebecca Hughes, an avid blogger whose work has been published in the “Times of Israel” and the “Jerusalem Post”, served as Coordinator for ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking Project from 2012 – 2015. She is now studying towards a Master of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., from where she coordinates TFHT’s international online lobbying initiative, Project 119.”

The Customer is Not Always Right

Israel Social TV
Mar 3, 2014

The sex industry in Israel generates nearly two billion shekels a year. Thousands of women find themselves trapped in the prostitution cycle due to sexual abuse in childhood, along with severe social and economic circumstances. The bill proposes to take legal actions against clients of prostitution services passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset, and social organizations are now trying to push for final passage. Implementation of the law is expected to cost a lot of money. There is concern that to pass the law, the rehabilitation track will be removed from the law. Therefore, these women engaging in prostitution for lack of choice will lose their source of income and also the possibility of rehabilitation.




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The fate of over 200 Nigerian girls has dominated international headlines for nearly a month.  YouTube Preview Image

These girls, aged 12-18, were kidnapped from their school by an Islamic terrorist group, held hostage and forced to convert to Islam. Shocking video footage that went viral depicts disturbing images of young girls terrified for their lives. Yet more tragic, this terrorist group is known to brutally rape their hostages, turning their captives into sex slaves.

As the global community mobilizes to attempt to end this month-long kidnapping-rape, and by extension all modern versions of human trafficking, political leaders and influential personalities are demonstrating concern via social media.  Most notably, First Lady Michelle Obama, posted a selfie holding a sign of #bringbackourgirls.

michelle obama

While digital advocacy efforts to sign an online petition have produced greater attention and resonance, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign seems a profoundly inadequate response. 


More than three weeks after Islamic extremists abducted the girls, world outrage is galvanizing Twitter and other social-media networks.  As advocates of ending human trafficking in Israel, and across the world, please help our efforts to indeed #BringBackOurGirls. 



Report: 1 Million Visits to Prostituted Women in Israel Monthly

More than one million times each month, prostituted persons are exploited in Israel, according to an investigative report by Israel’s Channel 1 TV.

Gili Varon, Director of ATZUM's Task Force on Human Trafficking, being interviewed as part of the Channel 1 expose

Gili Varon, Director of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, being interviewed as part of the Channel 1 expose

The report exposed the extensive prostitution “industry” throughout Israel and the abuse, exploitation and misery of the thousands of women who are prostituted to serve the demand for paid sexual services.  

“Is there such a thing as a woman who wants to be in prostitution?” the reporter asked a formerly prostituted woman, who now works in a shelter helping other women and girls exit the nightmare and rebuild their lives.

“There is no such thing as a woman who goes into prostitution because that’s what she wants to do,” was her response. “It’s nothing more than emotional and physical abuse. It slowly murders your soul. I’ve never met anyone who does it by choice.”

The report explores possible solutions to this widespread degradation of women’s rights and dignity in Israel, including  the campaign to adopt the Nordic Model, which ATZUM is spearheading.

The Nordic Model criminalizes the purchase of sexual services, while decriminalizing the sale of such services. It thus protects vulnerable women, by sending a strong message that buying sex is not to be tolerated.  The model originated in Sweden, which has seen a major decrease in prostitution since its introduction, as well as a shift in the society’s view of people who buy sexual services.

Gili Varon, Director of ATZUM’s Task Force’ on Human Trafficking, was interviewed as part of the TV report. She was asked to respond to those who say that the sale and purchase of sex should be legalized and regulated, as opposed to the Nordic Model. 

“The model of regulated prostitution is unconscionable from a moral standpoint, and in fact it has failed in those countries where it has been implemented,” Gili said in her interview. “We have to pursue the proposed legislation to criminalize buying sex, whereby criminal status is imposed on buyers. They are perpetuating this injustice and exploiting women who have been fallen to a low place due to difficult life circumstances.”

View the full Channel 1 report here (in Hebrew):

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This report highlights the urgent need for action against the prostitution scourge in Israel. 

To learn more about ATZUM’s campaign to fight prositution in Israel, visit the Task Force on Human Trafficking

Who Cares About Murdered Prostitutes in Israel?

On August 26th, an article by ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking’s Rebecca Hughes’s was published on the Times of Israel website, entitled ‘Murdering a ‘Certain Kind’ of Woman’.

The article discusses the recent case of the murder of a prostituted woman in Tel Aviv.

It also explores other stories of murdered prostitutes, along with the societal and psychological issues that lead to one class of persons being so at-risk.

You can read the article here

The Painful Silence: Terrorism’s Forgotten Victims

The Times of Israel

December 18, 2012

By Gila Berdichev

In September, US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by terrorists who stormed the US Embassy. Just a few weeks later, a car bomb killed Lebanese security chief Wissam al-Hassan. And last month, a serious Hamas offensive sent rockets into Israeli cities previously thought invulnerable, killing five and wounding 70 private citizens. Now, our brothers and sisters in the United States are reeling from a mass execution at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, an act of extreme violence that left 26 dead, including 20 young children.

Unfortunately, this latest surge of violence circumventing the globe is nothing new.Over the last year, I have heard stories about many other attacks, bombings and grisly murders around the world – premeditated acts of terror as well as impulsive and senseless acts of violence.

When terror acts occur in Israel, we pray that there are no fatalities. When one man is killed, it is as though the whole country has a lost a father, brother, husband or friend. When one young girl dies, all of Israel mourns the death of their little girl. In the hours after an attack, we focus on the death toll. And if there are no fatalities, we breathe a deep sigh of relief and go about our day. [Read more…]

Prostitution in Israel: Myth vs reality

Jerusalem Post

December 3, 2012

By Rebecca Hughes

For too long, the conversation surrounding prostitution has been based on a myth. While the damage that stems from inaccurate depictions of prostitution in popular culture is significant, it is nothing compared to the damage created by misinformed policymakers and law enforcement officials.

There is a dangerous gap between the glamorous depiction of prostitution in pop-culture and the reality that prostituted women and minors are forced to contend with on a daily basis.

When society’s decision makers ascribe to these myths and are oblivious to the suffering of prostituted people, real women and children fall into the abyss and are all too often unable to climb back out. [Read more…]

Modern Slavery in Israel: It’s All Politics

The Algemeiner

August 19, 2012

By Rebecca Hughes

Several days ago, I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing off the hook.  A very annoyed man was on the line. “I’m calling from the Knesset,” he said. “You’ve been sending us letters.” His tone was accusatory, but I was guilty as charged.

Championing ATZUM’s “Project 119,” 127 volunteers – myself included – have been sending numerous e-mails to the Members of Knesset.  Over the last five months, we have sent 1,904 e-mails urging MKs to pass MK Orit Zuaretz’s proposed legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services.

Though he was clearly less than happy to be talking to me, I was pleased to be speaking with him.  Clearly, I thought, this was someone who realized that combating sex trafficking and prostitution belongs near the top of our government’s ‘To Do’ list, seeing as there are thousands of prostituted individuals in Israel, many of whom are children. Although procuring is illegal in Israel, 90% of these women and children are owned by others and experience violence at the hands of their pimps or their clients. [Read more…]