MK Orit Zuaretz, who chairs the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, called on the government Wednesday to widen the assistance and support currently afforded to all victims of forced labor and human trafficking, especially women trying to escape the sex trade.
Speaking at a special session of the committee called to coincide with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Zuaretz said emphatically that "the State of Israel is responsible for providing rehabilitation and protection to all victims of trafficking. "These women, even those who do not have a clear status here, who should be supported by the state and be able to get treatment in the community," she said, adding "the current situation is intolerable and destructive."
The meeting, which was attended by Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and National Insurance Institute Director-General Esther Dominissini, highlighted a series of loopholes that leave many trafficking victims outside of the current rehabilitation services provided. This renders the women, many of whom work in prostitution, with little or no ongoing assistance to escape the sex industry.
"The phenomenon of trafficking in humans is cruel and inhumane," Herzog said at the meeting, pointing out that great efforts have been made by Israel to improve its international standing as a country that fights human trafficking and slavery.
He said that the Welfare and Social Services Ministry was mainly authorized to work within the framework of two government-run shelters for women trafficked to Israel for prostitution or male victims of forced labor.
In addition, the ministry also offers services to Israeli women attempting to escape the sex trade under a project headed by the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women.
Dominissini said that in accordance with new information received by her office, the NII was in the process of revising its policy of cutting income support for women who earn a living working in the sex industry and, as a humanitarian gesture, was now willing to recognize prostitution as a profession.
Zuaretz welcomed this significant step and added that prostitution was indeed a profession and the women should receive certain state benefits.
The meeting was also attended by government representatives from the ministries of Interior, Health and Industry, Trade and Labor, as well as numerous human rights organizations.
While nonprofits working in the field commended efforts by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, they pointed out many loopholes in the treatment and assistance provided to victims of human trafficking, especially women forced into the sex industry.
Rita Chaikin, anti-trafficking project coordinator of the Isha L'Isha Haifa Feminist Center, a grassroots organization that has helped many women escape a life of prostitution, said one of the main problems was ongoing rehabilitation, which is only provided by the state for one year.
Afterwards, she said, many of the women are not ready to reenter the job market or are unable to return to their country of origin.
She accused the Interior Ministry of being very slow to process requests for permanent residency status based on humanitarian grounds and a general failure to treat women who are not admitted to the government-run shelters.
Zuaretz ordered that these matters be investigated and promised a follow-up hearing within the next few months.
Figures released this week by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry show that some 284 women have passed through the shelter over the six years since it opened.
In addition to Wednesday's meeting, President Shimon Peres distributed special awards to those who have been active over the past year in combating human trafficking.
The three recipients are Marit Danon, former director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, responsible for coordinating activities to help former prostitutes; Rinat Davidovitch, director of the Ma'agan-run shelters for victims of trafficking, prostitution and forced labor; and the nonprofit organization Kav L'Oved ("workers hot line"), which calls many cases of modern-day slavery to the authorities' attention.