From the day I took up the chairmanship of the Knesset subcommittee on the
trafficking in women I have been exposed to a dark, sinister world right here in
Israel’s own back yard. Yet this is the same Jewish and democratic Israel that
is committed to the values of equality and human rights.
Many of us are
unaware that Israel is classified as a destination and source country for human
trafficking in general and of women in particular.
Since the 1990s Israel
has made considerable headway in its handling of human trafficking and the trade
in women. 2006 saw the passage of a law forbidding trafficking in human beings
for slavery or prostitution and the prohibition on the organ trade – an offense
carrying a 16-year jail sentence.
After a decade of the state taking
responsibility for the issue and dealing with it, we can see a decrease in the
patterns of women trafficking compared with those of a decade
However, the scourge continues, affecting women trafficked from
Eastern Europe, migrant workers and African asylum seekers, the latter of whom
undergo a saga of torture and sexual assault en route to Israel through the
Another issue is the internal trade or, more simply put, Israeli
prostitution – Israeli women pressed into prostitution. The attitude toward
prostitution in Israel is for the most part forgiving and understanding, relying
on tired clichés such as “prostitution is the world’s oldest profession” or “if
we don’t give men a safety valve for letting off steam legally with a
prostitute, the number of rape cases will increase.” These are lame, hackneyed
excuses completely divorced from reality.
Another myth revolves around
the question of choice – something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately – “they
choose this way of life,” “they want it,” “they make a lot of money that
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To get a first-hand impression, to see and hear from the women
themselves, we set out, together with the members of the committee, on tours of
south Tel Aviv, Eilat and Saharonim (an illegal migrant detention
The reality we witnessed is far removed from the idyllic images
of prostitution by choice.
The women we met were young and old, they came
from central Israel and from the periphery, each with a life story that led them
into prostitution – each story more harrowing than the next. Failures in the
education system and the welfare system, which did not protect them from sexual
abuse, led them into prostitution. Not a single one of them ever dreamed of
becoming a prostitute or call girl.
The main thing characterizing them
all was their complete loss of faith in the system, frustration and helplessness
when facing the state and the very authorities that are supposed to be there for
A bill I initiated, that seeks to punish those who use prostitutes
and provide for community counseling, will be presented to the Knesset plenum
today for a preliminary reading.
The bill is intended to reduce the scale
of prostitution and correct the moral and humanitarian injustice victimizing
thousands of women, men and children.
Opponents of the bill cite a
variety of reasons for their opposition, but the one undeniable fact is that
prostitution is not a voluntary act. Most women get sucked into the world of
prostitution while still minors (age 12-14 on average), and most of them (over
90 percent) have suffered sexual or other abuse as children. Research shows that
90% of all women engaging in prostitution are frequently physically assaulted,
with 55% of the assaults being perpetrated by the clients.
Most women get
robbed and are sexually or otherwise assaulted.
Women engaging in
prostitution are 200 times more likely to be violently raped than ordinary
women. Most rape is perpetrated by clients.
The clients are the economic
fuel keeping the wheels of this scourge turning, enabling its existence. The sex
industry in Israel turns over billions of shekels per year, all of which ends up
in the coffers of those criminals who exploit women and men, girls and
The worldwide model shows that the suggested legislation will
dramatically reduce the scale of the problem.
Its enforcement will put us
on a par with other advanced Western countries.
This kind of legislation,
which prohibits the commoditization of the bodies of people whose lives have led
them into the weakest niche in society, will certainly save many girls and boys
from a brutal fate rife with exploitation and violence.
The eyes of many
– social organizations, citizens and tens of thousands of women who have been,
or are, subjected to sexual, physical and psychological abuse on a daily basis –
are looking to the occupants of the Knesset to take this important moral stand.
It is a stand consistent with the values of the State of Israel, as well as the
values of all future victims – those we have the power to prevent.
law is the linchpin of a whole chain of actions intended to bring about social
change in all matters concerning prostitution and the trafficking of women in
Israel. Government support for such a law is a moral and value statement of the
highest kind.The writer, a member of the Knesset, is the chairman of the
sub-committee on the trafficking in women and the author of a bill that assigns
criminal responsibility to clients of prostitutes.
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