The government will sponsor a bill later this Knesset session that is expected to put the squeeze on those trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich announced Wednesday.
Aharonovich, addressing his ministry's plans to combat the phenomenon during a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Trafficking of Women, said that he intends to submit a bill during this Knesset session, sponsored by the government, that would increase penalties for pimping to the same level as those for human trafficking - from seven years to 16 years imprisonment.
In addition, Aharonovich said, his office would reexamine the topic of business licensing to any businesses found to be running a brothel while abusing the business licenses that they were issued - and will try to cancel the licenses.
Subcommittee chairwoman MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) complimented the enforcement activities currently underway to curb trafficking, and noted their "significant contribution to reducing the phenomenon of women trafficking."
But Zuaretz also called upon the enforcement agencies to plan ahead for changes in methods of trafficking and employment of women as prostitutes in light of the fact that, according to Zuaretz, the methods of employing the women have become more advanced.
"The minister's position is consistent with my perspective throughout all of the subcommittee's hearings, to make the level of punishment for those convicted of trading in women's bodies more severe. I call upon the police and the other law enforcement authorities to act to try offenders under the existing law that forbids human trafficking and employment under conditions of slavery for the purpose of sex, which includes a sentence of 16 years," said Zuarets.
In the course of the meeting, police officers reported that in the past two years, they had noted a significant decline in the phenomenon of organized prostitution in Israel, including a decline in the number of victims of women trafficking.
Police representatives did, however, add that with the increase in the number of foreign workers living in Israel - a number that the Immigration Authority places around 200,000 - they have noticed an increase in instances of trafficking of manual laborers. The police officers added that they could not determine whether the incidents were widespread enough to consider them a "phenomenon." They emphasized that it was still a "rare" occurrence.
The Israel Police said that the number of people working in prostitution in Israel was "a couple thousand," but NGOs who offer assistance to women involved in prostitution said that they believed the true number to hover around 20,000.
The police also said that at the beginning of the decade, there were estimated to be approximately 3,000 victims of women trafficking in Israel, whereas in 2009, they believed that the number was only a few dozen. The Israel Police attribute the decline to the enforcement efforts by police in the field.
Recent years have also seen a decrease in the number of investigations opened by police into suspected cases of trafficking for prostitution. In 2007, 21 such files were opened by the police whereas in the past two years, a mere 10 investigations have been opened each year.
The data provided by the police was not, however, entirely positive. Although police recorded a decrease in trafficking investigations, there has been an increase in the number of files opened for offenses related to trafficking, including pimping and operating brothels. In the first eight months of 2009, 331 files were opened for trafficking-related offenses - an increase of 84.9% from the overall number of investigations on similar charges in all of 2008.
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