14,000 sex workers in Israel, 3,000 of them minors

According to data presented, the age of entering the cycle of prostitution is as low as 13.

March 17, 2019 11:58
2 minute read.
(L to R) Prof. Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, head of Gender and Feminism Studies track at Schechter

(L to R) Prof. Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, head of Gender and Feminism Studies track at Schechter; journalist Vered Lee; Adv. Nitzan Kahana; Na’ama Goldberg and Prof. Renée Levine Melammed, founder of the Gender and Feminism Studies M.A. track at the Schechter Institute. (photo credit: ITAI NADAV)


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Some 14,000 people in Israel are currently engaged in prostitution, 95% of them women, including 3,000 minors. These figures were presented at the annual conference on the status of women held last week by the Gender and Feminism Studies M.A. track at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

According to data presented, the age of entering the cycle of prostitution is as low as 13. According to the testimonies of women involved in prostitution and those who have left the vocation, most of them are women who experienced severe sexual abuse in childhood. Only 20% of these women ultimately manage to break out of the cycle of prostitution.

The conference was held Thursday for the 13th time with the support of Prof. Alice Shalvi, former rector and acting president of Schechter.

Some of the speakers were women who were involved in the successful effort to pass the 2018 law which incriminates consumers of prostitution, passed shortly before the present Knesset election was declared. The new law will come into force within 16 months, together with a rehabilitation program for women involved in prostitution, and will impose fines on consumers. Israel is the eighth country in the world to pass such a law.

“In the past, there was trade of women in Israel," said Nitzan Kahana, social activist and associate director of the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution. "Then in the 1990s, the state introduced comprehensive legislation against this phenomenon, which was indeed eradicated, but the demand remained and the traders in women and pimps pushed Israeli women into prostitution. We wanted to introduce the Nordic law that bans consumption of prostitution. We say that this act is immoral and inappropriate, and we acted to introduce the model of incriminating clients.”

On the question of whether the law is liable to encourage other criminal manifestations such as rape, Kahana replied that “the law alone cannot eradicate the consumption of prostitution, but public opinion polls in Sweden, where the law was passed at the end of the previous decade, one can see that the approach to consuming prostitution has changed. Today we see 80 to 90% support from men for the law that prohibits consuming prostitution.”

Na’ama Goldberg, founder and director of the Don’t Stand Aside (Lo Omdot Mineged) association, which helps women involved in prostitution with their immediate needs such as clothing, food, medicines and emotional assistance, described the women who end up in prostitution.

“Women who enter prostitution are not women who have a choice," she said. "Normative women do not have this dilemma at all. In many cases we are talking about severe traumas such as incest, girls coming from non-functioning homes, complete with neglect of their emotional needs, running away from home and straight into the arms of pimps with the aim of seeking love. That’s where the vicious circle begins.”

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