Prostitution in Israel: Myth vs reality

Let’s make it clear to Israel’s incoming Knesset Members that in Israel, women and children are simply not for sale.

prostitution (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
For too long, the conversation surrounding prostitution has been based on a myth. While the damage that stems from inaccurate depictions of prostitution in popular culture is significant, it is nothing compared to the damage created by misinformed policymakers and law enforcement officials.
There is a dangerous gap between the glamorous depiction of prostitution in pop-culture and the reality that prostituted women and minors are forced to contend with on a daily basis.
When society’s decision makers ascribe to these myths and are oblivious to the suffering of prostituted people, real women and children fall into the abyss and are all too often unable to climb back out.
Recently, I was shocked and disappointed when Yoav Kotler, the head of the investigative branch of the Tel Aviv district police, was quoted in a Jerusalem Post article (“TA police raid brothel in massive tax evasion case,” August 22) as saying that “99% of prostituted women in Israel willingly work” in the flesh trade. Contrary to what Mr. Kotler believes, most women do not choose to be prostitutes.
In fact, most women who enter prostitution in Israel aren’t women at all, but young girls. According to Saleet, a Tel Aviv shelter for prostituted women, the average age of entrance into Israel’s flesh trade is 14. Clearly, no 14 year-old would willingly choose to working in this so-called profession.
Moreover, most prostituted persons have experienced severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse before they enter the sex trade. This serves as boot camp for prostitution in that it normalizes the abuse that is so common in the trade. Decades of research show that prostitution is multi-traumatic, with rape, beatings, coercion, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, a high rate of suicide, drastically lowered life expectancy, and sexually transmitted diseases being just a few of the horrors with which prostituted women and minors must contend.
Prostitution never has been and never will be a profession like any other. In a recent Haaretz feature entitled “Hell du Jour: Meet Israel’s Daylight Prostitutes,” one prostituted woman explained how she felt when she was with Johns. She related, “I die inside anew every time.” How many lawyers, waiters or doctors say these kinds of things about the time that they spend with their clients? How many other professionals use drugs in order to cope with the realities of their job, find themselves unable to touch their children or partners, and are often unable to form and maintain intimate relationships? Can we even name another profession in which 86% of employees are regularly beaten by their bosses and clients? And we won’t even mention the fact that 68% of these employees are also raped.
To be sure, there are a small percentage of prostitutes who claim they “chose the life” they live, but they do not represent the norm. For the vast majority of trafficked and prostituted people, prostitution is not a choice. At least not in the way we like to think about choices.
Saying that prostitution is a choice is like saying that someone chose to jump off a roof, forgetting to mention that the building was on fire. It is reprehensible to protect the right of the few who will choose this “profession” when there are so many others who desire and deserve the right to leave it.
To my dismay, the present Knesset ultimately failed to protect the rights of the majority of prostituted women and minors in Israel. Though MK Orit Zuaretz’s proposed legislation to criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services was approved unanimously by the Ministerial Committee in February, it failed to advance beyond that.
This, in spite of the fact that similar legislation in other countries has been responsible for drastically reducing the demand for sexual services, sex trafficking and the prostitution of children. As the proposed legislation has not completed its first reading in the Knesset, the Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services and Community Treatment Bill will be scrapped entirely and the lengthy legislative process must start from scratch.
Still, there is hope. Israel’s politicians are again gearing up for primaries, which means that we now have the opportunity and responsibility to raise issues our society needs to address. This primary season, let’s make sure that we start a conversation about prostitution, and that the conversation be based on nothing but the facts.
We’ve seen the damage that can be done when policymakers are unaware of the realities of prostitution. We now have the golden opportunity to vote in a Knesset that is both educated about this issue as well as ready and willing to advance progressive legislation when the time comes.
Let’s make it clear to Israel’s incoming Knesset Members that in Israel, women and children are simply not for sale.
Rebecca Hughes is the projects assistant for ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking (, an entity that aims to engage the public and government agencies to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel.