MK: 'Rehab services if prostitution bill passes'

Zuaretz says sex workers will receive full range of services if prostitution is criminalized.

Prostitute and police 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Prostitute and police 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) gave reassurances on Tuesday that individuals working in the sex industry will receive a full range of rehabilitation services if her bill to criminalize prostitution is ratified.
The legislation, which will make paying for sexual services a criminal offense punishable with a prison sentence or community service, was approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and is expected to pass its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.
While the law has been welcomed by all human rights groups, in a general sense some have expressed concerns that there are not enough resources to help or rehabilitate potentially thousands of women who will find themselves effectively “unemployed.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Tuesday, Zuaretz said these fears were natural but pointed out that if her law is passed, Israel will join a global movement to stamp out prostitution.
“We are not re-inventing the wheel,” said the MK, who has studied similar laws in Northern Europe and the US, where utilizing the services of a prostitute is criminalized. “We are basing our model on models from around the world that already exist. Israel is about 10 years behind everyone else and its time we caught up on this.”
The MK pointed out that the National Authority for the Advancement of Women, based in the Prime Minister’s Office, already has a program to help women wanting to leave the sex industry. The initiative, which was launched some six years ago, runs two hostels – in Tel Aviv and Haifa – providing women with a safe place to sleep, shower and learn how to turn their lives around.
“Rehabilitating women who leave prostitution is just like rehabilitation for drug addicts,” commented Zuaretz. “We help them to stand on their own two feet and eventually join the regular workforce.”
She added: “While the law does not give all answers to this problem, it does provide the basics – and that is human rights for all women.”
Despite the reassurances and the fact that the law is being applauded by human rights activists, Rita Chaikin, Anti-Trafficking Project Coordinator for Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, told the Post that what currently exists is “not enough to help the women.”
“We welcome this law, but we have to ask what will happen to the women the day after it passes?” she said, pointing out that issue is not only rehabilitation services but also witness protection programs. “In order for the clients to be punished, the legal system will have to rely on testimony from witnesses.
Will the women have to reveal their identities? Will they receive protection? These seem like small issues, but they are not,” said Chaikin.
Chaikin said that Isha L’Isha received some feedback from women working in the sex industry, who have expressed concern that the bill, in its current format, is too focused on prosecuting the clients and pays little attention to how clamping down on the industry will affect the women working in it.
“They are asking us why no one has spoken to them about this law” she said, adding, “I do not know what will happen to these women the day after this law is passed.”
Tzipi Nachshon-Glick, director of Services for Adults and Young Adults at Risk in the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, said, however, that the law was just another part of a greater process that has been happening over the past few years.
Nachshon-Glick’s department is responsible for overseeing the government’s program to help individuals wanting leave the sex industry.
She said that the main goal of the program already running in Haifa and Tel Aviv is “building trust between the women and the authorities… and show them that there are people in the world who care about them and want to help them.”
In addition to the two centers where sex workers can go to sleep, shower and eat hot meals, Nachshon-Glick said the ministry also runs a mobile unit that reaches out to the women on the streets, provides them with medical check-ups and also hands out condoms for protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
Women who want to leave the industry can be placed in a shelter where they receive assistance to help them move forward with their lives, said Nachshon-Glick.
She added that the program would soon be expanded to Beersheba and Eilat, as well as a help center for male victims of the sex industry.
Asked whether the budget for the program will also be expanded to include the estimated 10,000 people who currently work in the sex industry, and might soon be in need of rehabilitation, Nachshon-Glick said that she believed if the demand grows the government would find a way to support more services.