For too long, the conversation surrounding prostitution has been based on a
myth. While the damage that stems from inaccurate depictions of prostitution in
popular culture is significant, it is nothing compared to the damage created by
misinformed policymakers and law enforcement officials.
There is a
dangerous gap between the glamorous depiction of prostitution in pop-culture and
the reality that prostituted women and minors are forced to contend with on a
When society’s decision makers ascribe to these myths and
are oblivious to the suffering of prostituted people, real women and children
fall into the abyss and are all too often unable to climb back
Recently, I was shocked and disappointed when Yoav Kotler, the head
of the investigative branch of the Tel Aviv district police, was quoted in a
Jerusalem Post article (“TA police raid brothel in massive tax evasion case,”
August 22) as saying that “99% of prostituted women in Israel willingly work” in
the flesh trade. Contrary to what Mr. Kotler believes, most women do not
choose to be prostitutes.
In fact, most women who enter prostitution in
Israel aren’t women at all, but young girls. According to Saleet, a Tel Aviv
shelter for prostituted women, the average age of entrance into Israel’s flesh
trade is 14. Clearly, no 14 year-old would willingly choose to working in this
Moreover, most prostituted persons have experienced
severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse before they enter the sex trade.
This serves as boot camp for prostitution in that it normalizes the abuse that
is so common in the trade. Decades of research show that prostitution is
multi-traumatic, with rape, beatings, coercion, depression, post-traumatic
stress syndrome, a high rate of suicide, drastically lowered life expectancy,
and sexually transmitted diseases being just a few of the horrors with which
prostituted women and minors must contend.
Prostitution never has been
and never will be a profession like any other. In a recent Haaretz feature
entitled “Hell du Jour: Meet Israel’s Daylight Prostitutes,” one prostituted
woman explained how she felt when she was with Johns. She related, “I die inside
anew every time.” How many lawyers, waiters or doctors say these kinds of things
about the time that they spend with their clients? How many other professionals
use drugs in order to cope with the realities of their job, find themselves
unable to touch their children or partners, and are often unable to form and
maintain intimate relationships? Can we even name another profession in which
86% of employees are regularly beaten by their bosses and clients? And we won’t
even mention the fact that 68% of these employees are also raped.
sure, there are a small percentage of prostitutes who claim they “chose the
life” they live, but they do not represent the norm. For the vast majority of
trafficked and prostituted people, prostitution is not a choice. At least not in
the way we like to think about choices.
Saying that prostitution is a
choice is like saying that someone chose to jump off a roof, forgetting to
mention that the building was on fire. It is reprehensible to protect the right
of the few who will choose this “profession” when there are so many others who
desire and deserve the right to leave it.
To my dismay, the present
Knesset ultimately failed to protect the rights of the majority of prostituted
women and minors in Israel. Though MK Orit Zuaretz’s proposed legislation to
criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services was approved unanimously by
the Ministerial Committee in February, it failed to advance beyond
This, in spite of the fact that similar legislation in other
countries has been responsible for drastically reducing the demand for sexual
services, sex trafficking and the prostitution of children. As the proposed
legislation has not completed its first reading in the Knesset, the Prohibition
of Consumption of Prostitution Services and Community Treatment Bill will be
scrapped entirely and the lengthy legislative process must start from
Still, there is hope. Israel’s politicians are again gearing up
for primaries, which means that we now have the opportunity and responsibility
to raise issues our society needs to address. This primary season, let’s make
sure that we start a conversation about prostitution, and that the conversation
be based on nothing but the facts.
We’ve seen the damage that can be done
when policymakers are unaware of the realities of prostitution. We now have the
golden opportunity to vote in a Knesset that is both educated about this issue
as well as ready and willing to advance progressive legislation when the time
Let’s make it clear to Israel’s incoming Knesset Members that in
Israel, women and children are simply not for sale.
Rebecca Hughes is the
projects assistant for ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking (www.atzum.org),
an entity that aims to engage the public and government agencies to confront and
eradicate modern slavery in Israel.