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Task Force on Human Trafficking

In the past decade, approximately 25,000 women, nearly all from the Former Soviet Union, were smuggled into Israel over the Egyptian border to be brutalized as sex slaves. Once in Israel, victims are repeatedly sold and resold to pimps and brothel owners. They are forced to work in slave-like conditions, ruthlessly abused and exploited, suffering severe beatings, rape and often starvation. Though Israel has made progress in the fight against human trafficking, there is still a great deal that needs to be done.

In 2003, ATZUM joined forces with Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar (www.knklaw.com) and established the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT) to help Israel put an end to human trafficking within its borders.  The TFHT works tirelessly to engage and educate the public and government agencies to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel, and lobbies for reform in the areas of prevention, border closure, protection of escaped women, and prosecution of traffickers and pimps.

Lobbying

In January 2005, the TFHT began a full-scale campaign to lobby policymakers in Israel about the issue of human trafficking. Hundreds of letters and e-mails were sent to members of the Knesset (MKs) to educate them about trafficking and demand important policy changes. The TFHT also convenes frequent meetings with high-ranking police and military officials to ensure that it remains up-to-date on changing practices in the field.

Thus far, the TFHT has:

  • Convinced MKs, cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister  to raise the trafficking issue in key parliamentary committee sessions;
  • Conducted brainstorming sessions with individual MKs to explore ways in which Israel can improve its policy on trafficking;
  • Inspired MKs to initiate their own inquiries into what government agencies are doing about trafficking.

The Task Force also participates in the Knesset Inter-Office Parliamentary Committee against Human Trafficking, which was formed at its request.


Advocacy

The TFHT advocates on behalf of the victims of human trafficking by filing complaints in the courts or other formal agencies, demanding policy changes and requesting that pimps and traffickers be arrested and prosecuted. These initiatives draw greater attention to this issue and help protect the rights of victims throughout Israel.

Recent advocacy efforts include:

  • Government policies that impede justice are challenged and sometimes overruled in court. The TFHT filed a petition with the High Court of Justice requesting that the attorney general change certain policies which hinder the prosecution of pimps and traffickers.
  • Newspapers play a central role in promoting trafficking by publishing ads recruiting victims and advertising “services.” The Task Force filed several petitions in the courts and via the appropriate channels in the Israel Press Agency challenging this illegal advertising and demanding the newspapers be sanctioned and their publishers brought in for questioning.
  • Too often, court decisions endanger trafficking victims and violate their privacy rights by exposing their full names or addresses. The TFHT wrote a formal letter to the court directorate asking that judges protect victims by shielding this information in their decisions.  The letter was distributed by the court directorate to all of the judges in Israel.
  • The Task Force represents some individual victims directly in the courts and successfully pursued ground breaking damage suits filed against State agencies that violated the basic human rights of the trafficking victims.


Research & Policy Reform

Government agencies and NGOs around the world are working to find ways to put an end to modern slavery.  The TFHT believes that Israel should learn from the successes and failures of these entities and engages in extensive research into their “best practices.” This information allows the Task Force to make important suggestions on how Israel can improve its policies in the fight against human trafficking.

Research and policy reform is an ongoing process. The TFHT’s efforts include:

  • Maintaining a database of the projects undertaken by NGOs around the world to end trafficking;
  • Exploring ways to discourage the involvement of private industries like hotels and newspapers in the chain of trafficking through creative legislative proposals;
  • Participating in international list-serves and chat forums about human trafficking to stay up-to-date on trends.


Public Awareness & Education

Education is a key component in the fight against human trafficking.  Because too many Israelis know little or nothing about the country’s human trafficking crisis, the TFHT works to educate law enforcement personnel and private citizens about the facts on the ground and the best methods to help prevent modern slavery in Israel.

Educational projects include:

  • Developing curriculum materials for use in schools throughout Israel to help promote awareness and eliminate demand;
  • Designing workshops for law enforcement officers on how to identify and assist victims;
  • Organizing creative public events/installments that attract media attention and increase national awareness.