‘You’re so beautiful, Lanuchka,” she told me suddenly in a strange voice. “I thought maybe you’d come with me to the Diamond Exchange and work with me there.”
I thought she was kidding around, or had taken some weird drugs she doesn’t usually take. “Enough, Mama, that’s not funny,” I replied, as I plastered a smile on my face.
But then she pushed me back down on the bed and her face had a very serious expression on it. “You’re so young and beautiful. There aren’t many girls there at the moment – this is an excellent opportunity,” she told me.
“Opportunity to do what?” I yelled, as I jumped off the bed, agitated. “To be a whore like you? That will never happen.”
“You better believe it will,” she replied in a quiet voice. “There’s no alternative.”
“But how can you ask your daughter to become a prostitute? Don’t you have a heart?” I begged of her.
All of a sudden, I felt so lonely, like there was no one in the entire world who would protect me from all of the bad in the world.
This is how Liat Elazar describes how her good friend Lena, who is no longer alive, was introduced to the world of prostitution, following pressure from her own mother. Elazar tells this and many other stories in her new book, Lost Girls, which follows the lives of several former prostitutes, including herself, who managed to escape the world of prostitution, though not without countless emotional and psychological scars.
“Every woman who works as a prostitute is a victim,” says Elazar. “On the one hand, you say to yourself, I don’t want to be doing this. But, on the other hand, you say to yourself, What else am I qualified to work in? It’s the only thing I know how to do.
“They all believe this is their fate in life. They don’t want to be doing it, but feel they weren’t given a choice. In the story about my close friend Lena, I describe her relationship with her mother, who was also a prostitute and who was the one who introduced Lena to that world at such a tender young age. Lena became pregnant and they took the baby away.
“Later, Lena died from an overdose and her mother was murdered. The protagonists of other stories include a couple in their 40s who are drug addicts. The woman was a really tough figure who was well known on the streets. Another character was a taxi driver who would pimp out naive girls. And of course, there’s my own personal story. I saw women around me being stabbed, raped, murdered all the time. And everyone would just go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. In the eyes of the authorities, these were just work accidents that came with the territory. My self-worth was so low that I didn’t consider these incidents crimes either.”
After being a part of the prostitution world for 15 years, Elazar finally gathered the courage to go public with her story, in a book about her life and the sex industry in Israel during the first decade of the millennium.
Elazar describes her early childhood in a dysfunctional home and later in foster care and finally on the street. She suffered extreme violence, social alienation and finally hospitalization at Geha Mental Health Center. Through a crowdsourcing campaign, Elazar is currently raising money to be used to publish her book.
“I used to have sex with people in exchange for getting free rides to places,” says Elazar. “I don’t even know why I would do it. It was a big mistake. I was searching for love and money. When I was 18, somebody referred me to a brothel – he told me it was a shame that I was giving it away for free. I was a big hit there, since I was so much younger than everyone else. I made a ton of money – thousands of shekels. I used to receive around 10 customers a day. I never saw the pimps. I was very naive. I loved to read and go to art museums. I trusted everyone who I came into contact with.”
Growing up, Elazar’s father was always in debt, and so he would move from one city to another. Her mother was clinically depressed, and Elazar herself suffered from an eating disorder. Throughout her childhood, she constantly yearned for a loving home and a place where she could feel like she belonged. When she arrived at the brothel, she was so relieved to finally have a roof over her head.
“I was there for six months before we moved to the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan,” Elazar recalls. “When I was 19, I was kicked out because I didn’t always use condoms. At the time, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Now I understand that I was indifferent to life – I didn’t care if I lived or died. My self-esteem was at rock bottom.”
Elazar bounced around from one brothel to another in different cities, still not realizing what was going on in her life.
“I suffered tremendous trauma at a brothel in Haifa,” Elazar describes. “Most of the women there had fallen on hard times and were absolutely miserable. I used to talk about my dreams of one day getting married to someone who loved me, and that drove the other women crazy, and they would hit me until I shut up.”
About a year later, Elazar returned to the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan.
“Someone took me there and told me to stand next to a tree. He said, ‘Stand here and ask for NIS 70,’” Elazar recalls. “But I asked only for NIS 50 since I couldn’t imagine that I was worth NIS 70. Even though at the time I was young – 23 – and I looked really good, with long blond hair. I could have gotten even NIS 100, but my self-image was so low. The police used to pick us up, push us into their police vans and then dump us out somewhere else.”
Over time, Elazar managed to make enough money to rent an apartment in Netanya, but she continued to suffer from violence and fear as she worked the streets at the Diamond Exchange or Tel Baruch.
“Every time you get into a man’s car, you don’t know if or when you’re going to get out,” Elazar explains. “You just spend the whole time praying that it’s going to end peacefully. Once, I was picked up by a group of teens and one of them was not satisfied. So I ran away to a nearby kiosk and he kept stabbing me with a screwdriver while his friends threw yogurt on me. Luckily, a police car drove by and stopped to ask if I wanted them to call an ambulance for me. They didn’t ask if I wanted to file a police report, and neither did they chase after the boys. To them, it was like I wasn’t a full human being.
“I witnessed a number of gang rapes where the women had to be taken to the hospital afterward. Twenty years ago, that would happen all the time. Nobody cared about us. Sometimes, volunteers would come distribute condoms to all the prostitutes. Lots of women die in this line of work – mostly from drug overdoses and murder.”
AT SOME point, Elazar decided she wanted to leave the world of prostitution. “I must have someone up above who was looking out for me, because somehow I never developed a drug addiction. One day, I was pondering how much longer I could remain in this line of work. I mean, I wasn’t 20 years old anymore. I began dealing with an internal struggle, and I realized that I needed to set an actual date, so I decided on January 1, 2009. After that, I told myself, I wouldn’t work as a prostitute anymore.”
“At first, I began working with the elderly, because I was worried someone might recognize me. This happened a few times, when people recognized me and called me Sivan, my previous name. It was so upsetting when that would happen, and I would be reminded of my old life.”
Now, at the age of 45, Elazar lives with her partner and works as a cashier at a grocery store. Her partner knows all about her past and accepts her just the way she is. They are very happy, she says.
When I ask her if she wants to have kids, she brushes away the question.
“I have rotten genes and I would never consider passing them on to anyone else,” she says sadly. “I’m damaged on so many different levels.
“Till this day, I get anxious when I hear men talking near me. I can’t sit next to men on the bus, either. For me, men are all dirty, disgusting.
“I don’t think I can alter my brain at this point in my life. Human beings are not built physically or emotionally to work as prostitutes. It’s not normal. While you’re working, you manage to dissociate from your body, but after a number of years, you realize how damaging it is to your soul.”
Elazar is currently trying to raise NIS 23,000 in a crowdfunding campaign so she can publish her book. So far, she’s raised NIS 9,600 and hopes that people will invest and buy her book as a gesture to help women who are still stuck inside the prostitution industry.
Her goal is to change the stereotype and educate people so that they understand that women don’t choose to become prostitutes, and that they don’t get rich from it. Elazar hopes that her book will help people understand this world better by telling the ugly truth about the terrible psychological stresses women in the industry deal with.
“No woman can retain her emotional health while working as a prostitute,” Elazar claims. “No one is built to sleep with 30 men in one day. Till this day, I still don’t understand how I survived.
“While you’re in the middle of it, you don’t think it’s so bad, but if you finally manage to leave after having been there for years, you suddenly realize how traumatic it actually was. One day you wake up and understand how sick and twisted this world is.
“It’s super important that women reach out for help – there are a number of organizations that help with this nowadays. It’s not as hard getting help as it used to be.
“And for women who are considering entering this world – I am here to warn you: Don’t do it! It’s not worth it. Just don’t even get started. It’s a bottomless pit, and the trauma will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.