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.


Court Temporarily Closes Tel Aviv Brothel


The person registered as leasing the building is a homeless drug addict, according to evidence submitted to the court.


The brothel at Hayarkon 98, Tel Aviv Credit: Gilad Lieberman

Vered Lee Oct 20, 2015 
A Tel Aviv brothel has been shut down for 90 days – the longest period allowable by law – during which time prosecutors are expected to issue indictments against individuals involved in its operation.
Located at 98 Hayarkon Street, the brothel has been in existence for 13 years. It made the headlines in August, when a 36-year-old sex worker known only as Jessica hanged herself in the brothel room in which she lived and worked.
The brothel resumed activity immediately following the death, despite a public campaign calling for its closure. A number of protests were held outside the building.
Appearing before the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Monday, attorney Igor Yutkin, represented the owner of the building Dalia Trofa, argued that the building was a motel, rather than a brothel, and that Trofa had no knowledge of prostitution on the premises. Yutkin added that there were no grounds to close the premises and that the owners had never previously been indicted.
It was revealed during the hearing that the individual registered as leasing the building is a homeless drug addict living in Tel Aviv’s central bus station. When the police summoned him to court, he said that he was not interested in the proceedings and that he did not oppose having the place shut down.
“I’m under the impression the building is a brothel,” the judge wrote in her ruling, adding that “there is a substantial basis for suspicion that the site will be used for criminal activity and resume functioning as a brothel unless an order is issued.” She said her statements were based on evidence collected at the site, including testimony from women who have worked there.
The judge stressed that closure orders had been issued against the site in the past and that police had informed Trofa that it was being used as a brothel.
“Many police investigations into the property have produced evidence showing that the property is used to provide sex services in exchange for payment,” she said. “Women are required to leave half of the fees they receive with those who run the site, and evidences shows that the business is run by a woman who coordinates meetings, as well as a guard who remains onsite.”
Prosecution attorney Dalia Abramoff said in response to the ruling that “the closure order handed down by the court is part of the country’s ongoing struggle against prostitution and abuse of female sex workers. A clear cry of support was issued today by the court in favor of the police and prosecutor’s efforts to protect female sex workers.”
The hearing was attended by representatives of various organizations opposed to prostution, as well as many Knesset members. Attorney Michal Liebel, from the Task Force on Human Trafficking, said that “the message here today is very clear. This ruling dissolves the ambiguity and clearly states that anyone involved in running a brothel – from owning the site, to renting it, to coordinating with customers – is part of the problem, and that the time has come to attack this problem, and eradicate it.”



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