In the wake of reports of a number of soldiers engaged in prostitution out of financial distress, Aliza Lavie, chairwoman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Combating Human Trafficking and Prostitution, said on Wednesday the military has no idea about the extent of prostitution among its soldiers and should make it clear that engagement in such acts is against IDF values.Speaking at a joint meeting of her subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, Lavie said the IDF must proactively identify and aid those engaged in the sex industry, because it is “unacceptable and not does not match the values of the IDF.”A survey by the Labor and Social Services Ministry for a report found an estimated 500 soldiers involved in prostitution, with at least six cases in the past year.Data from the ministry and the nonprofit Elem-Youth in Distress in Israel organization indicate that 30% of those aged 18-22 are involved in prostitution, ages that coincide with recruitment into the army, active service and shortly following release.
“One of the major problems is that the IDF has no real indication of the number of people engaged in prostitution during the service and, accordingly, the resources allocated to dealing with the phenomenon are limited,” Lavie said.“It is clear that the increase in the number of youth in the IDF who are engaged in prostitution is larger than those known by the system,” she added, stressing that the financial difficulties faced by soldiers who find it difficult to survive solely from their military salaries heavily influence their choice to work as prostitutes. According to a survey conducted for the Labor and Social Services Ministry last year, there are between 11,420 and 12,730 sex workers nationwide, composed of approximately 95% women and 5% men.About 11% of the female prostitutes were said to be minors, while some two-thirds of the women begin working in the world’s oldest profession due to desperate financial situations.Although prostitution is illegal in Israel, according to a Channel 2 report, the industry brings in some NIS 1.2 billion annually.Moshe Zaretsky, a former Givati Brigade soldier who today heads a social organization, said he is aware of prostitution inside IDF bases, referring to one woman from Givatayim who served in Givati. Needing help to pay the rent she began to provide sexual services to other soldiers for money.According to Brig.-Gen. (res.) Sharon Nir, the IDF chief of staff’s adviser on gender issues, there is no “phenomenon” of prostitution within the IDF.She described “isolated cases” of three to six soldiers a year found to be involved in the industry.Nir said the army knows how to identify cases of soldiers who engage in prostitution and provide them with help, giving both financial support and emotional therapy at a center that can be contacted without the help of a soldier’s commander.Although there is no order prohibiting prostitution, Nir said the army is firm in the belief that it is not in keeping with IDF values, and it plans to issue a statement making it clear to soldiers that they are not to engage in such activity. Because the IDF is the last place for young women to get help before they become independent adults, Lavie said the army must initiate campaigns to raise awareness and educate soldiers on the impact of the phenomenon.“The committee recommends and asks the army to be a trailblazer in this regard,” she said. “Prostitution is not a choice. We will promote the legislation prohibiting the use of prostitution, but it is certainly fitting that the army should serve as a moral compass for civil society and promote the legislation. That would be an important statement.”