(photo credit: Reuters)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked unveiled a bill on Wednesday geared toward fighting prostitution by fining customers.
According to the bill, customers paying for prostitution will be fined NIS 1,500 the first time they are caught and NIS 3,000 if they are caught a second time within three years of their first offense.
If offenders try to fight the fine in court and ultimately lose, the court can raise their fine to over NIS 14,000.
Shaked, in consultation with the Social Welfare Ministry, will impose a rehabilitation program for offenders in place of fines.
Underlying the bill is the assumption that administrative fines, not criminal liability, is the best way to fight the phenomenon of prostitution.
Originally, a state commission had supported criminal liability as a necessary measure to make a serious enough push back against the phenomenon.
However, law enforcement was always doubtful of criminal proceedings in terms of expecting both a lack of cooperation from victims and difficulty in turning defendants into state’s witnesses.
That opposition, expert advice and a review of other countries’ practices led Shaked to support the track of fighting prostitution with administrative fines.
Moreover, the bill is expected to pump state funds into a public education campaign against prostitution; an increase in services to help prostitutes and their customers move out of the arena; and safe houses for helping prostitutes transition out of the industry.
“Today we are sending a message – enslaving women and prostitution are beyond the pale,” Shaked said. “Prostitution is ethically problematic and harms and objectifies the bodies of Israeli women.”
Shaked presented the bill to the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Fighting the Enslavement of Women and Prostitution, presided over by Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, who along with the justice minister has prioritized the issue.
“This is a historic and emotional moment when the state finally makes an ethical and values statement against the phenomenon and its destructive consequences for thousands of women, girls and boys and for our entire society,” said Lavie.
Both the Knesset and the Justice Ministry’s cyber department are also taking other parallel measures at present to reduce the electronic footprint and availability of prostitution online.
Part of the progress started after a controversial June 2016 decision by Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Itai Hermelin who blocked the state prosecution from closing a residence where prostitution was occurring.
Hermelin based his decision on what he called women’s “freedom of employment” and right to do with their bodies as they wish in a democratic society, even if society may disapprove.
While Hermelin called on the Knesset to pass new laws to attack the phenomenon, his phrasing made MKs furious, as he sounded like he was endorsing prostitution and what most of them see as the enslavement of women.
Still, merely proposing a bill does not guarantee it will become law. A 2012 bill got through some legislative hoops before being sidetracked and the new bill is at the very start of the process.