Police arrested six suspects on Monday on suspicion that they headed a network of speech and hearing-impaired victims who were forced to roam the streets and beg for money.
The suspects, residents of Rishon Lezion, Ashkelon, and Netanya, are suspected of a litany of offenses including: human trafficking, false imprisonment, forced labor, assault, rape, and withholding passports.
The investigation was coordinated with the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority and was initiated because of the victims’ expired tourist visas. As of Monday 10 victims from Eastern Europe – mainly the Ukraine – have been identified and moved to a shelter for victims of human trafficking.
They were allegedly forced to beg with notes, describing their disability and handing out dolls for money. The suspects allegedly housed the victims in Netanya, illegally holding the victims’ passports and threating them with violence and blackmail. One suspect is accused of sexually assaulting a victim.
Israel has made significant strides in combating human trafficking. The US State Department has placed Israel in the highest ranking for combating human trafficking over the past five years, after low rankings in the early and mid-2000s.
However, according to an April report from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, human rights groups have identified more victims of human trafficking than the police. The report also accuses the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority of deporting victims of human trafficking without any coordination with the police.
In a statement the police said that they are actively seeking to combat the phenomenon of human trafficking. “Israeli police and law enforcement authorities view with severity the exploitation of the victims and their disability for the purpose of financial gain, and even more so the use of violence against them,” the police stated. “We will act with determination to expose, investigate and hold accountable the perpetrators of these offenses.”