Amnesty International in Israel called on the public to get involved in stopping violence against female victims of human trafficking in a demonstration Thursday in the Neveh Sha'anan neighborhood of Tel Aviv, near the old central bus station, an area known for its brothels.
In an effort to raise awareness of Israel's growing sex slave trade, ahead of the International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Saturday, Ayelet Lahmi, anti-trafficking in women coordinator at Amnesty said: "Citizens of this country need to be more vigilant about what is happening around them."
"We want people to take note of who lives in their building, who lives in the discreet apartment nearby, who is taking taxis and stopping by late at night. Sometimes these are the signs that women are in danger," said Lahmi, adding that more than 30 activists of all ages and backgrounds handed out keys to the public in a campaign entitled "The Key to Her Freedom is in Your Hands."
The demonstrators also carried a life-size plastic doll with her mouth bound that represented women who are prevented from telling others about their plight, she said.
"We went right into the area where there are many illegal brothels and sex services," said Lahmi. "We saw women watching us from the upstairs windows and we saw many 'clients,' who tried to tell us that these women enjoy what they do. I think we made an impact on many people who came into contact with us today.
"We have the legislation in place," continued Lahmi, referring to a bill passed last month aimed at cracking down on individuals who trade in humans and awarding better compensation to the victims. "However, the phenomenon has gone underground, it has become very discreet and it is very difficult to get to the perpetrators."
Lahmi added that the police attitude of treating victims of the white slave trade as criminals needed to be changed. "The State of Israel needs to help these women get back on their feet and return to their countries of origin stronger than before so that they can truly break out of the trafficking cycle," she said.
Amnesty estimates more than 3,000 women are victims of human trafficking, although police figures are much lower. "We want people to know that these women are also victims of extreme violence," said Lahmi.
November 25 was chosen as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly, though women's activists have marked the day since 1981. The date is meant to be a reminder of the brutal assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, in 1961.
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