Despite new legislation aimed at tackling human trafficking and increased resources to help victims, many people brought to Israel for forced labor or the sex industry remain unknown, according Ilan Cohn, senior program officer for the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI).
"We know there are many victims of human trafficking and we now have the infrastructure to help them," said Cohn, referring to a new shelter for trafficking victims - both male and female - that opened here in May. "However, the level of identification is very, very low."
He continued: "If we don't identify these victims then they will continue to be exploited and we will not be able to prosecute those who are behind the crimes."
CIMI, which is a joint effort of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Justice Ministry with funding from the European Council, kicked off the first of five workshops Wednesday aimed at teaching officials from the Israel Police and the ministries of Justice, Interior, Health, Welfare and Social Services and Public Security to better recognize the victims and help them.
Speakers at the seminar included the Justice Ministry's Rachel Gershoni, who coordinates the government's efforts in the battle against trafficking. Gershoni told those gathered that they should "trust their instincts on whether someone is a victim of trafficking."
"Victims sometimes exhibit strange behavior," she said. "They return to their employers, they never complain and might even speak about the employer as though he is their best friend. All this is strange, but it does not mean they are not victims."
Gershoni also gave numerous examples from around the world of modern-day slavery cases and pointed out that not all of them are extreme or involved violence.
"[The victims] come from a wide range of different cultures and all speak different languages," explained CIMI's Cohn. "In addition, there are numerous laws pertaining to all the different areas of trafficking and different government offices that need to be approached when these people are discovered. The goal here is to improve coordination and to really understand how to implement the trafficking legislation."
Cohn said that it is unclear exactly how many victims there are in Israel "because it is still hidden and there is very little prosecution."
However, he estimates from non-governmental organizations that there are between 150-200 cases a year. Very few of the perpetrators behind those crimes are prosecuted, however.
In Israel, trafficking victims generally fall into two categories - those brought here - usually woman from Eastern Europe - for sexual exploitation and those in forced-labor situations, which can be either men or women, usually hailing from Asian countries.