LAST UPDATED: 02/12/2012 22:10
Logic dictates that if demand for prostitution can expand, it can also contract.
Prostitute [illustrative] Photo: Edgard Garrido / Reuters
Prostitution is violence against women. Everything should be done to diminish,
if not completely eradicate, this horrible phenomenon, dubbed inappropriately
“the world’s oldest profession,” as if its long history somehow gives it
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation took an
important step toward achieving this goal Sunday when it unanimously passed a
bill by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), who chairs the Knesset Subcommittee on
Trafficking in Women.
If ratified, Zuaretz’s bill would make it illegal
to buy sexual services but not to sell them. The legislation’s eminently
reasonable underlying assumption is that prostitutes – mostly women – are
victims of an industry said to generate revenues of $2 billion a year in Israel,
while those who solicit, pimp or facilitate sexual favors – primarily men – are
the ones guilty of exploiting, raping and abusing those who are weaker and more
vulnerable, and therefore, deserve to be singled out for
Critics of the bill argue that targeting prostitutes’ clients
will make an already dangerous work environment even more hazardous. Those who
disregard the new law will tend to be more dangerous, violent types. The
decrease in the number of clients will lead to cutthroat competition among the
remaining prostitutes, who will earn less and might be put under pressure to
have sex without protection. And the entire industry will go
But thousands of prostitutes are already working in horrid
conditions, forced to maximize profits by working long hours with as many as a
dozen clients a day. Some prostitutes live under constant physical threat.
Others are addicted to heroin or other drugs, while still others were victims of
sexual abuse as children and found their way to prostitution due to low
self-esteem or other psychological problems.
Legalizing prostitution and
regulating the industry to protect women from exploitation is not an option.
Experiments in Holland and Germany have proven a failure. Criminal
activity, human trafficking and the abuse of women continue despite regulatory
actions. Besides, such legislation would never have a chance of passing in a
government dominated by conservative-minded lawmakers from Shas, United Torah
Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and Likud. Could a state that defines itself as Jewish
justify the legalization of prostitution?
While critics of Zuaretz’s legislation
might be right that in the short-term the situation for some prostitutes might
get worse, in the long-term the inevitable decrease in demand – assuming the law
is enforced by police – will gradually force many women out of
The new shelter for prostitutes built in Beersheba and the
existing one in the center of Israel will most likely be overcrowded with women
seeking protection from the pimps, massage parlor owners and other go-betweens
who pocket the vast majority of the profits from prostitutes’ hard
work. These existing shelters will need to be augmented.
the number of social and psychological support givers and job training
Kayla Zecher, Project Coordinator for ATZUM – Task Force on
Human Trafficking, an organization that helped Zuaretz draft her bill, estimates
that there are 15,000 prostitutes – a third of whom are minors – currently
working in Israel. These people need to be helped to weather the transition from
prostitution to an occupation that does not involve degradation and
Critics also claim that before a law can be passed, a public
education campaign should be launched to teach the public about the dark side of
prostitution. But we believe there is no better way of conveying the message
that prostitution – and the criminal sub-culture it sustains – is morally
reprehensible than by criminalizing it. Indeed, the sort of callous men who
frequent prostitutes – particularly those held in sub-human conditions – need
the added incentive of a possible prison sentence to improve their learning
Prostitution has existed since Israel’s founding – and before. But
it was not until the 1990s, with the huge influx of immigration from the former
Soviet Union, that the industry really began to take off. Demand increased with
supply, and even after a crackdown on human trafficking significantly reduced
the number of women smuggled into Israel from Ukraine, Moldova and other
countries in eastern Europe, local women – including migrant workers and
asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea – quickly filled the vacuum.
dictates that if demand for prostitution can expand, it can also contract.
Zuaretz’s bill is designed to do just that. Let’s hope the Knesset passes it.