Rivlin to wipe the slate clean for convicted prostitutes

Rivlin said that “life in prostitution means daily, unbearable exposure to violence, poverty, addiction and exploitation."

The ultimate decider: President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The ultimate decider: President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In March 2018, in advance of Independence Day, President Reuven Rivlin and then justice minister Ayelet Shaked decided to grant special pardons as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the State of Israel. Those eligible for pardons were people who had not committed serious crimes, in particular, soldiers and civilian National Service volunteers who had expressed remorse and whose behavior demonstrated a desire to turn over a new leaf.
Pardons and the commuting of sentences on important national days have been a tradition in several countries, including Israel.
What is expected to be the final lockdown in Israel’s battle against the novel coronavirus may be termed a national day. On Sunday morning, before the lockdown in the evening, Rivlin and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced a special program to expunge the criminal records of convicted prostitutes.
The program is designed to encourage women to leave the oldest profession and to seek another source of income that is not demeaning and one in which they can restore their dignity.
Rivlin invited those convicted in the past for crimes related to prostitution but were not sentenced to prison terms to submit applications for their criminal records to be deleted.
Referring to legislation that bars the use of sex services and imposes heavy fines on clients who purchase such services, he said: “The law prohibiting use of sex services is a message to the Israeli public, men and women and young people. The message is that women’s bodies are not a commodity. Women’s souls are not a commodity. Sex for pay is not about sexual relations. Sex for pay is an exploitative relationship that has no place in our society – a society that values equality and respect for every man and woman from every sector and every part of society.”
Rivlin said prostitution was a form of “violence against women. Fighting the use of sex services is part of the fight against violence against women, part of the fight against the notion that people can use the body and soul of someone else, of women, and do with them what they will as if they were objects to be purchased for money.”
While he said he did not understand what women forced by circumstances to engage in prostitution have undergone, he said he knows that “life in prostitution means daily, unbearable exposure to violence, poverty, addiction and exploitation... This is life on the brink of death, on the edge of surrender. To break this cycle of pain, which sometimes seems never-ending, with no horizon, requires enormous mental strength.”
Even though rehabilitation and reentering the workforce may be a difficult task fraught with trauma and stigma, those who want to flee the degrading cycle of human trafficking will take the opportunity to have their crimes erased and begin new lives, Rivlin said.
“It is our duty as a country, as a society, to help rehabilitate sex workers and to prevent those at risk from exposure to the crises that lead them to it,” he said.
The use of pardons is “one of the most important elements of the role of president of the State of Israel,” Rivlin said, adding: “I wanted to give every citizen of Israel, from all groups and tribes, the possibility to correct mistakes. People can change their direction, put the past behind them and turn over a new page. We should all have the chance to ask for forgiveness, an opportunity to change our minds, to accept pardon and consolation.”
Nissenkorn said he and Rivlin had been working on the program for several months, with the aim of providing an avenue of compassion that would encourage providers of sex services to rehabilitate themselves and reintegrate into mainstream society.
Along with legislation  prohibiting use of sex services, which he recently signed into law, the new program emphasizes that the State of Israel acknowledges the harmful nature of prostitution and the serious damage it does, Nissenkorn said.
What neither Rivlin nor Nissenkorn appear to have taken into consideration is the effect of Israel’s diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates on young Israeli prostitutes and call girls.
Dubai is known to be the Middle East’s capital for prostitution, with beautiful young men and women from all over the world flocking there to sell their services in luxury hotels and night clubs.
There is no street prostitution in Dubai, but prostitutes are all over the public areas in hotels.
Prostitution existed in pre-state Israel since the early years of the 20th century and was legalized in 1949 under the Prostitution and Abomination Act. Homosexual prostitution was legalized in 1954.
In 1962, the law made a distinction between indoor prostitution, which was illegal, and street prostitution, which was permitted.
Even so, indoor prostitution controlled by criminal elements that brought young women from Eastern Europe to Israel under false pretenses of respectable jobs continued to flourish.
Several attempts were made to stop this, but there was no real progress until former Meretz leader Zehava Galon made prevention of human trafficking her life’s mission. She was helped by various women’s movements that lobbied the Knesset.
A draft bill outlawing payment for sexual favors was approved by the cabinet in 2012 but did not advance from there.
In 2017, a similar but more wide-ranging bill was introduced to the Knesset, and a special committee headed by Emi Palmor, who was then director-general of the Justice Ministry, was appointed to determine how best to define the criminalization of clients of sex services. The committee was unable to reach consensus on a new model, and so the existing draft prevailed.
That draft, written into law in December 2018, provides for a fine of NIS 2,000 for offenders who purchase sexual services, increasing to NIS 4,000 for repeat offenses within three years.
A possible criminal case against sex purchasers could carry a maximum penalty of NIS 75,300, which is a lot more than a round-trip ticket to Dubai for three nights, including hotel and sexual favors.