As of March 2019, some 14,000 people in Israel are engaged in prostitution. 95 percent of them are women, including 3,000 minors. The age of entering the cycle of prostitution is as low as 13. No exact definition of prostitution in Israel exists. According to the testimonies of women involved in prostitution and of prostitution survivors, most of them experienced severe sexual abuse in childhood. Only 20 percent of these women ultimately manage to break out of the sexual exploitation cycle.
These figures were presented at the annual conference on the status of women held by the Gender and Feminism Studies M.A. track of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. The 13th annual conference was held on Thursday, March 14, 2019, with the generous support of Professor Alice Shalvi, former Rector and Acting President of Schechter. Among the speakers were women leading the successful effort to pass a law that incriminates consumers of prostitution. The law was passed at the end of 2018, shortly before the upcoming elections to the Knesset were declared. The new law will come into force within 16 months, together with a rehabilitation program for women involved in prostitution, and will impose fines on consumers. Israel is the eighth country in the world to legislate such a law.
Adv. Nitzan Kahana, a social activist and associate director of The Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, explained how the demand for prostitution is taken on by the new law. In the nineties comprehensive legislation against trafficking in women was passed. Indeed, the phenomenon was largely eradicated, but the demand remained and traders in women and pimps pushed Israeli women into prostitution. “We wanted to introduce a Nordic-type law that bans consumption of prostitution”, says Adv. Kahana. “We say that this act is immoral and inappropriate, and we acted to introduce the model of incriminating clients.”
On the question of whether the law is liable to encourage other criminal manifestations such as rape, Adv. Kahana replied that in her opinion, “the law alone cannot eradicate consumption of prostitution, but from the public opinion polls in Sweden, where the law was passed at the end of the previous decade, one can see that the approach to consuming prostitution has changed. Today we see 80-90 percent support from men for the law that prohibits consuming prostitution.”
Na’ama Goldberg, founder and director of the “Not Standing Aside” (Lo Omdot Mineged) non-profit, which helps women involved in prostitution with their immediate needs such as clothing, food, medicines, and emotional assistance, described the women who end up sexually exploited. “Women who enter prostitution are not women who have a choice. Normative women do not have this dilemma at all. In many cases we are talking about severe traumas such as incest, girls coming from dysfunctional; homes, complete with neglect of their emotional needs, running away from home and straight into the arms of pimps with the aim of seeking love. That’s where the vicious circle begins.”
In the picture from left to right: Prof. Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, head of Gender and Feminism Studies track at Schechter; journalist Vered Lee; Adv. Nitzan Kahana; Na’ama Goldberg and Prof. Renée Levine Melammed; founder of the Gender and Feminism Studies M.A. track at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies.