Many are unaware that Israel is classified as a destination and source country for human trafficking, of women in particular.
From the day I took up the chairmanship of the Knesset subcommittee on the trafficking in women I have been exposed to a dark, sinister world right here in Israel’s own back yard. Yet this is the same Jewish and democratic Israel that is committed to the values of equality and human rights.
Many of us are unaware that Israel is classified as a destination and source country for human trafficking in general and of women in particular.
Since the 1990s Israel has made considerable headway in its handling of human trafficking and the trade in women. 2006 saw the passage of a law forbidding trafficking in human beings for slavery or prostitution and the prohibition on the organ trade – an offense carrying a 16-year jail sentence.
After a decade of the state taking responsibility for the issue and dealing with it, we can see a decrease in the patterns of women trafficking compared with those of a decade ago.
However, the scourge continues, affecting women trafficked from Eastern Europe, migrant workers and African asylum seekers, the latter of whom undergo a saga of torture and sexual assault en route to Israel through the Sinai.
Another issue is the internal trade or, more simply put, Israeli prostitution – Israeli women pressed into prostitution. The attitude toward prostitution in Israel is for the most part forgiving and understanding, relying on tired clichés such as “prostitution is the world’s oldest profession” or “if we don’t give men a safety valve for letting off steam legally with a prostitute, the number of rape cases will increase.” These are lame, hackneyed excuses completely divorced from reality.
Another myth revolves around the question of choice – something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately – “they choose this way of life,” “they want it,” “they make a lot of money that way.”
To get a first-hand impression, to see and hear from the women themselves, we set out, together with the members of the committee, on tours of south Tel Aviv, Eilat and Saharonim (an illegal migrant detention center).
The reality we witnessed is far removed from the idyllic images of prostitution by choice.
The women we met were young and old, they came from central Israel and from the periphery, each with a life story that led them into prostitution – each story more harrowing than the next. Failures in the education system and the welfare system, which did not protect them from sexual abuse, led them into prostitution. Not a single one of them ever dreamed of becoming a prostitute or call girl.
The main thing characterizing them all was their complete loss of faith in the system, frustration and helplessness when facing the state and the very authorities that are supposed to be there for them.
A bill I initiated, that seeks to punish those who use prostitutes and provide for community counseling, will be presented to the Knesset plenum today for a preliminary reading.
The bill is intended to reduce the scale of prostitution and correct the moral and humanitarian injustice victimizing thousands of women, men and children.
Opponents of the bill cite a variety of reasons for their opposition, but the one undeniable fact is that prostitution is not a voluntary act. Most women get sucked into the world of prostitution while still minors (age 12-14 on average), and most of them (over 90 percent) have suffered sexual or other abuse as children. Research shows that 90% of all women engaging in prostitution are frequently physically assaulted, with 55% of the assaults being perpetrated by the clients.
Most women get robbed and are sexually or otherwise assaulted.
Women engaging in prostitution are 200 times more likely to be violently raped than ordinary women. Most rape is perpetrated by clients.
The clients are the economic fuel keeping the wheels of this scourge turning, enabling its existence. The sex industry in Israel turns over billions of shekels per year, all of which ends up in the coffers of those criminals who exploit women and men, girls and boys.
The worldwide model shows that the suggested legislation will dramatically reduce the scale of the problem.
Its enforcement will put us on a par with other advanced Western countries.
This kind of legislation, which prohibits the commoditization of the bodies of people whose lives have led them into the weakest niche in society, will certainly save many girls and boys from a brutal fate rife with exploitation and violence.
The eyes of many – social organizations, citizens and tens of thousands of women who have been, or are, subjected to sexual, physical and psychological abuse on a daily basis – are looking to the occupants of the Knesset to take this important moral stand. It is a stand consistent with the values of the State of Israel, as well as the values of all future victims – those we have the power to prevent.
This law is the linchpin of a whole chain of actions intended to bring about social change in all matters concerning prostitution and the trafficking of women in Israel. Government support for such a law is a moral and value statement of the highest kind.
The writer, a member of the Knesset, is the chairman of the sub-committee on the trafficking in women and the author of a bill that assigns criminal responsibility to clients of prostitutes.