(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Nearly half of those who seek care from clinics or shelters for prostitutes and sexually abused women in and around Haifa are from the former Soviet Union, and 15 percent are Arabs, according to statistics presented Sunday to members of the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution.
The MKs were participating in a tour of the facilities. They included Female Horizon, which helps women who have survived living on the streets; an ELEM shelter that helps youth at risk; a mobile clinic assisting prostitutes; and a shelter in Usfiya for female migrants from Africa who were sexually abused in Sinai while making their way to Israel.
The committee heard the story of a young woman who endured abuse and harassment at school and ran away from home because she was living in an unsupportive environment.
“My mom was always frustrated that we didn’t have anything to eat,” the woman told the committee members. “At 15 I ran away from home for half a year because there was no one to help and accept me.
I went to Tel Aviv and had nowhere to sleep. I lived under blocks near garbage cans.”
She was eventually arrested, and after pleading with police and welfare services not to send her home, she was sent to an orphanage. She served in the IDF for three years but was thrown into prison twice for desertion. Upon her discharge she had nowhere to turn.
“This is what I have been reduced to in order to support myself,” she said, referring to prostitution.
The mobile clinic is the only unit that goes out into the streets and offers direct assistance to prostitutes. It operates mostly in the Haifa area, though it recently expanded its operations northward to Acre and southward to Hadera.
The staff consists of a driver, two nurses, a counselor and a social worker – all of whom work just a few hours a week due to budgetary constraints.
“We have reached a point where salaries are not paid and we have no money to buy medications,” clinic director Noga Shiloach told the MKs.
The mobile unit was established following a marked increase of sexually transmitted diseases in 2009. It offers medical testing, medications, information, contraception and gynecological exams twice a week. Since its inception it has treated around 800 women.
Female Horizon has been in operation since 2009 within the framework of the national program to assist women in prostitution. It operates with full funding from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and in cooperation with the Haifa Municipality. It provides services to the entire northern region, and the majority of the women living there are not from the Haifa area.
“At the beginning of the next session the committee will discuss budgetary planning with the welfare and social services minister and director-general,” committee chairman MK David Tsur said during the tour.
“We must solve the problem of matching [budget allocations], which falls upon the local authorities, and provide a more just distribution to the periphery,” Tsur said. “Expanding the response given to the most disadvantaged women is the need of the hour, and I am sure that the minister will respond to the needs of immigrants and those shouting from the field.”