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.”


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.”

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

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


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.


HAARETZ – Punish Clients, Not Prostitutes

Haaretz Editorial, Haaertz Newspaper, 11/04/2016

Prostitutes in Tel Aviv.The photograph shows two figures wearing high boots standing on a street, their backs to the camera.

A “major advance” for human rights and women’s rights was how French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the law passed by his country’s parliament on Wednesday, making it illegal to pay for sex in France. From now on, engaging the service of a prostitute is a criminal offense that carries a fine.The goal of the law is to discourage prostitution by penalizing the clients rather than the prostitutes. Sweden was the first country to adopt this approach, passing a similar law in 1999. Other countries with laws of this kind include Norway, Iceland, Canada and Ireland.
The law that outlaws prostitution and shifts the criminal burden to the customers has drawn international attention, particularly in light of the failure of regulation of the industry in the Netherlands. The trafficking of women has increased, together with organized crime. In Sweden, prostitution has not been eliminated, but studies show that the number of female sex workers in the country fell by two-thirds and the law has stopped women from entering the industry.

Legislation criminalizing the clients represents a revolutionary approach to prostitution. First, it declares that prostitution is a form of violence against women. In addition, there is increasing recognition of the criminal responsibility of the client in contributing to the success of prostitution. He collaborates with the pimps and crime organizations that use his money to grease the wheels of the industry. Customer demand shapes and influences the sex industry and the characteristics of the victims of prostitution, including their young age.
Criminalizing the client changes the entire legal and social approach to the phenomenon; the social and legal disgrace moves from the prostitute to the client, and it is he who is now subject to sanctions, condemnation and public criticism. It stresses the harm done to women who engage in prostitution, to all women, and to society as a whole, and it makes the debate over illusions of “choice” and “consent” superfluous by acknowledging that those caught up in the cycle of prostitution don’t have real choice. The discussion is focused on the damage prostitution causes and how to prevent it.

A bill in the spirit of the Swedish legislation promoted by Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon was passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset in February 2012. Galon and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) will resubmit it when the Knesset convenes for the summer session, with added provisions for rehabilitating sex workers.

We can only hopes that Israel will demonstrate ethical and social responsibility for human rights and women’s rights and join the global trend of adopting the Swedish model. The time has also come for Israel to clearly declare, like the other states that have adopted this approach — the customer is the criminal.

Bringing the Nordic Model to Israel

An interview with Dafna Leil, Knesset Correspondent ENG SUB

March 2016

ATZUM-TFHT facilitated the English translation of an Israel Channel 2 interview with Dafna Leil, Knesset Correspondent. The interview, which initially aired in March 2016, related to the current composition of the Knesset and the relatively encouraging chances for the passage of Nordic Model legislation by this government.  The proposed legislation, authored by TFHT, is now being promoted with the cross-party collaboration of MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz).

The segment also featured an interview with Vika, one of the only survivors of prostitution in Israel willing to be interviewed and photographed without concealment. In addition to appearing within the media, Vika also attends discussions about prostitution with the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and speaks to groups about her personal experiences and the abusive reality of prostitution. Vika is also a participant in TFHT’s empowerment program, conducted in partnership with NGO Ofek Nashi for women who have left, or are in the process of escaping prostitution.

Prostitution in Israel Netted $308 Million in 2014, First-ever Survey Finds

By Lee Yaron and Or Kashti, Haaretz Newspaper, 06/03/2016

The first-ever government survey into prostitution in Israel found that 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, published last week, showed that each sex worker had approximately 660 clients a year.

According to the study, as many as 1,260 minors were employed as prostitutes or at risk of prostitution in 2014. The Social Affairs Ministry’s current budget for combating prostitution is 22 million shekels, with about two-thirds of it earmarked for dealing with minors.

“The data is very difficult, and we cannot remain indifferent to such a phenomenon,” Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz said. He said the budget for treating prostitution among minors will rise this year.

Over 40 percent of the 1.2 billion shekels goes to prostitutes working out of “discreet apartments,” while the total income of sex workers walking the streets amounted to about 70 million shekels in 2014.

The study was eight years in the making. In 2007, the year before it was launched, an interministerial committee formulated a plan to deal with prostitution among women and girls. However, it soon became clear that no precise numbers were available to indicate the extent of the phenomenon or its characteristics. This situation had been known since the 1990s, when government committees determined that research was needed.

Publication of the study was delayed by both organizational and methodological problems, which led to criticism of the Social Affairs Ministry by experts in the field.
The survey, conducted among a sample of some 600 female sex workers, revealed economic hardship as the primary reason women said they were working as prostitutes.

Sixty-six percent of the women interviewed said they started working as prostitutes to pay off debts, while 10 percent said they had no other profession and no other way of supporting their children. More than 70 percent said that working as prostitutes had failed to solve their financial problems and therefore they could not stop.

“I had problems with my mortgage, the National Insurance Institute didn’t help. They wanted to take my house,” one woman told interviewers. Another said, “I worked as a waitress and at McDonald’s before this, but inflation started and all the prices went up. Everything was expensive – food, everything – so I needed more money.”

The women interviewed had an average of 12.2 years of schooling, while 20 percent had academic degrees. Of the other reasons women said they entered prostitution, 9 percent said they were led into it by another person; 7 percent cited substance abuse; and 5 percent said sexual abuse.

The survey distinguished between various types of prostitution: street- or apartment-based; prostitution offering massage or escort services; services such as exotic dancing; domination; and prostitution among transgender individuals. The survey showed that prostitution in dwellings was nine times more common than in the street.

The women in the survey said they took an average of 5.3 clients a day and that they normally worked 2.5 days a week. About a quarter of the women said they took more than seven clients a day. The survey revealed that most of the women interviewed were not temporary sex workers: 40 percent had been working between five and 15 years, and 12 percent had been prostitutes for more than 16 years.

The findings showed a large gap between the number of women who want to leave prostitution and those who believe they can – 76 percent versus 24 percent. In answer to the question “Do you see yourself in prostitution for many more years?” one woman responded, “I really hope not. The truth is I tried to go home, but the easy money brought me back here. This is not my dream, but the reality is different. There’s nothing to be done. I would like a normal life.”

The main center of prostitution in Israel is Tel Aviv and the center of the country – 62 percent of the “discreet apartments” and 48 percent of the massage parlors are in the Tel Aviv area. Only about 1 percent of such facilities are in Jerusalem.

The survey discovered there were approximately 670 adult sex websites in 2014, including erotic pictures of women and men offering to pay for sex. Advertising sex for a fee is becoming more common, and there are also apps for this purpose. These findings, according to the survey, show a change in the sex industry in Israel. In the past, it was an underworld phenomenon dominated by pimps, whereas sex on the Web is global and without boundaries – which must be dealt with internationally, the survey concluded.

The authors of the survey conceded that they had difficulty pinpointing an accurate number of minors working in prostitution. To arrive at a figure, the survey used numbers provided by social workers and by an at-risk youth assistance organization, Elem.

“My mother threw me out of the house. If I went to her, she’d call the police right away. I was 12 and I saw some guy drive by in a car; he stopped for me. He was 27 and he asked me why I was outside at that hour. He offered to take me to live with him in a village in exchange for me sleeping with him regularly,” one minor said.

Forty-five percent of the women interviewed said they started working as prostitutes between the ages of 25 and 39. Only 9 percent said they started when they were under 18. Most of the women – 62 percent – were mothers, and 9 percent were married.

Fifty-two percent of the women interviewed were natives of the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe; most had come to live in Israel during the wave of immigration in the 1990s.

In terms of male sex workers, some 68 percent provide sex exclusively to men, and 23 percent only to women. Nine percent provided sex to both men and women. Forty-one percent of the men said they were sex workers because they were attracted to the profession; 40 percent cited economic hardship as the reason.

Police Bust Women-Trafficking, Prostitution Ring in Tel Aviv

Times of Israel

November 29, 2015

Network smuggled Russian and Ukrainian women into Israel and ran brothels in luxury high-rises, investigators charge

The investigation, reported Sunday by Israel Radio, was conducted under the auspices of the Tel Aviv Police and resulted in the arrest of two men suspected of running the trafficking ring.

Additional arrests are expected, the Hebrew-language Walla news site reported.

The suspected ringleader of the group, identified as Leonid Streimer, is a 35-year-old resident of the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

The investigation reportedly turned up a complex operation in which the network would locate young Russian and Ukrainian women, some of whom had worked as models, and convince them to come to Israel on tourist visas, promising they would find work amid the difficult economic situations in their home countries.

Once they got to Israel, the women were housed in luxury condominium towers and expensive hotels, where the ring allegedly operated brothels for businessmen and wealthy individuals.

The women would charge significant fees for their sexual services, of which the network operators would get a percentage. A police source told Walla that one woman told investigators she would earn $3,000 or more per week, most of which she would send to her family in Ukraine.

The investigation began following complaints by neighbors in the luxury buildings, who suspected that brothels were being operated near their homes.

In September 2014, police arrested two suspects for running a prostitution ring that consisted of Russian and Ukrainian women brought to Israel on medical tourism visas.

According to the Task Force on Human Trafficking, an alliance of Israeli NGOs, there are 15,000 women working in the sex trade in Israel.