More than half the population believes that men who pay for sexual services from prostitutes should be prosecuted under the law, according to a study conducted by the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, a department of the Prime Minister's Office, published Wednesday. Close to 450 secular Israelis over the age of 18 were quizzed for the study, which was commissioned to gauge public perception of the world's oldest profession and towards the women working in the industry. "The findings of this study show us that the Israeli public hold very advanced views concerning the problems of prostitution, especially relating to the need for legislation against those who utilize the sex industry," commented Marit Danon, Director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, which has been charged with coordinating the activities of an inter-ministerial task force to help women break out of the prostitution cycle. "In Sweden, a country considered extremely modern by Western standards, it took more than 25 years to prepare the public for such advanced legislation," pointed out Danon. Under the current law, pandering, running a brothel and sex with a prostitute who is a minor are the only aspects of the sex industry that are illegal here. The act of prostitution and utilizing a prostitute's services are not viewed as criminal. However a private member's bill from Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, which is currently making its way through the legislature, could succeed in making it illegal to pay for sex. In addition to the legal aspects, the survey showed that the Israeli public clearly recognizes the constraints forcing women into the country's sex industry. Of those questioned for the survey, 68% acknowledged that prostitution was symptomatic of certain difficult life conditions, with only 18% claiming that it was a personal choice. Information published by the government office suggests that the majority of prostitutes have usually grown up surrounded by physical abuse, extreme violence and sexual abuse from within the family unit. Despite understanding the hardships faced by prostitutes, only a little more than half the population said it was aware that the majority of women in the sex industry are forced into the work as teenage girls. Information released by the Prime Minister's Office indicates that most prostitutes start work between the ages of 13-14. On a positive note, however, 81% said that the phenomenon of prostitution was extremely damaging to a person's self-respect and that it had an adverse effect on society. Most agreed that the state should take a stand against prostitution and felt that a woman could only break the cycle of prostitution with assistance from the government. "It is extremely encouraging that the majority of people in Israel see prostitution as a social problem that not only damages individual self-respect but also the society in general," said Danon. "This is the first time in our history that the state is taking it upon itself to clamp down on the sex industry and assist the women who have been forced into it to move on with their lives." Danon highlighted that the interministerial task force to help women break out of the prostitution cycle, which was initiated earlier this year, had already established several safe houses for women in Tel Aviv and Haifa, as well as a wide range of social and rehabilitative programs including a mobile medical unit and a hot line for women (1800-200-690). "This program is only in its initial stages but we do view these steps as a very positive move by the government," said Rita Chaikin, Anti-Trafficking Project Coordinator of Isha L'Isha Haifa Feminist Center, a grass-roots organization that has helped many women escape a life of prostitution. Chaikin said that the united effort on the part of the government ministries involved - the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, Health, Education, Labor, Trade and Industry and the National Insurance Institution - would hopefully make a big impact in helping other women move on with their lives.