Nearly half the women residing in an emergency shelter for streetwalkers are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Naama Rivlin, director of Saleet, an organization that assists prostitutes, told a Knesset committee on Tuesday.

Rivlin presented the facts during a discussion in the Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs and the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution.

The lawmakers convened to discuss the link between difficulties in the absorption process of immigrants and their downward spiral into prostitution.

According to Rivlin, Saleet’s Tel Aviv-based shelter cares for some 400 women every year.

“Our emergency apartment, located in the central bus station, draws in women working in the toughest form of prostitution, who also usually use drugs.

About 50% of the women living in the apartment are Russian- speaking; while 30% of the women in the rehabilitation and therapy track are Russian speakers.”

Furthermore, Rivlin stated that around 95% of all the women that Saleet treats – including the new immigrants – have experienced some form of sexual assault in their youth. “There isn’t a single girl among those who came to us for treatment who was not a victim of gang rape in her country of origin.”

The immigration crisis, coupled with difficulty in earning a living, serves as a breaking point for already weakened women, including mothers with children, and makes prostitution a viable lifestyle, explained Rivlin.

Noga Shiluch, director of a patrol for minimizing the damage of prostitution, concurred with Rivlin’s estimate. He said that 49% of the women encountered by the patrol car were prostitutes from the former Soviet Union.

“Our feeling is that the crisis is not so much about the absorption centers, but rather the financial obligations that come later. Some of them go into prostitution because of financial burdens accrued. Immigrant women often do not succeed during the absorption period in taking advantage of the social services, and when they want to, they discover it is too late,” said Shiluch.

Rita Haikin, from the Isha L’Isha (Woman to Woman) organization, added, “It is not enough to bring Jews to the State of Israel to improve our demographics. W also need to take care of them and help them deal with life in Israel.”

The discussion brought forth sharp criticism against the government, immigrant absorption centers, the Jewish Agency, and specifically programs which bring Jewish youth to Israel.

Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid), chairman of the committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs, concluded that more emotional support should be provided during the absorption process and in clarifying the social rights of young immigrants. Razbozov said the committee would look into the absorption centers and the programs, like MASA, which bring Jewish youth to Israel, with regard to the absorption conditions and the economic and psychological assistance given to new immigrants.

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