Protests to call for criminalization of prostitution

Series of worldwide events aim to pressure lawmakers to support bill criminalizing purchase of sexual services.

Prostitute hooker street walker 390 (R) (photo credit: Edgard Garrido / Reuters)
Prostitute hooker street walker 390 (R)
(photo credit: Edgard Garrido / Reuters)
A series of worldwide protests Sunday, including in Israel, will aim to put pressure on Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and other lawmakers to support an upcoming bill that seeks to criminalize the purchase of sexual services in Israel.
Known as the “Nordic model,” after a similar series of laws were first passed in Sweden in 1999, the legislation in Israel is being proposed by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), chairperson of the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women.
If approved, it will become a criminal offense for any person to pay for prostitutes or any other type of sexual service.
Supporters also hope that it will cause significant damage to Israel’s multi-million dollar sex industry and help to reduce the high levels of human trafficking and sexual slavery.
“Simply put, prostitution is a form of modern slavery and must be eradicated – not just in Israel but throughout the world. The time has come for our society to stop tolerating the purchase of sexual services,” stated Rabbi Levi Lauer, founding executive director of ATZUM, whose Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT) is one of the human rights groups actively lobbying to raise support for this legislation.
“There must be real consequences in place for those who purchase sex to the great detriment of women, children and Israeli society as a whole,” continued Lauer.
Sunday’s protests, which will take place opposite Israeli consulates and embassies in London, New York, Washington, and outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, are likely to attract broad support from Jewish student groups and other activists involved worldwide in fighting the sex slave trade, said Kayla Zecher, projects coordinator for the TFHT and the organizer of the international demonstrations.
She explained that the protests are an extension of TFHT’s Project 119, a campaign launched recently together with law firm Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar, that has assigned trained volunteers to each of the remaining 119 Knesset members (Zuaretz not included) to provide them with information about the phenomenon and encourage them to vote in favor of the bill.
Zuaretz’s legislation, which already has support from numerous MKs from across the political spectrum, is based on laws that have been enacted in Sweden, Iceland, Norway and most recently in France. The model works on the principle that in order to effectively combat sex trafficking and prostitution, the demand for sexual services must be confronted.
The legislation is expected to come up for a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on February 12. While most women’s groups and human rights activists are clear that this legislation is the only answer to combating sexual slavery, representatives of the Justice Ministry until now have been hesitant to support making the consumption of prostitution services a criminal offense.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, the country’s national coordinator for human trafficking, lawyer Rachel Gershuni, said that in order for such a law to be effective it needed to be enacted together with changes to the rehabilitation services provided to help women who would lose their source of income, and include significant work to change public attitudes towards the sex industry.
Although there are no official figures, it is estimated that there are currently more than 15,000 individuals working in the prostitution industry in Israel, 5,000 of whom are minors. Israel has been a destination country for more than 25,000 victims of human trafficking since the 1990s.
Research undertaken by TFHT suggests that many of Israel’s prostitutes and sex slaves are controlled by pimps and some experience violence at the hands of their clients.
The clients come from every segment of society and every ethnic, religious and socioeconomic stratum.