Owners of "massage parlors" (a euphemism for brothels) forbid prostitutes working in them to use condoms because in a police raid they would be evidence that the establishment is for paid sex.

A Health Ministry spokeswoman says that an increase in sexually transmitted diseases has been registered recently among prostitutes and their clients.

"Massage parlors are nothing else but brothels, and pimps who operate them are denying the prostitutes basic protection for their lives and health," she says. Everyone knows this, yet the police refrain from closing these places down, she says.

"Often you work an eight-hour shift in fear," Revital, 33, who has been working in such parlors for the last four years, tells Haaretz.

"I live in fear of police raids and don't even have basic protection. Some clients bring their own and then it's all right. Sometimes I hide condoms in my bra or in paper but it always involves fear - either from the owner who might catch me or from not using the condom," she says.

Dozens of these outfits are spread in industrial areas in the central region and south Tel Aviv. Many of them have a legal business license but provide illegal sexual services. The sign at the entrance says "massage parlor" but the addition of the word "spa" indicates sexual services."

"There is a lot of hypocrisy in this business," says Revital. "Because of fear of the police we are not allowed to say the word 'sex,' 'release' and 'oral sex' freely."

The prostitutes tell callers that they give a regular massage, but in the end provide "release" in the [client's] underpants. Everyone understands that this is no ordinary spa, she says.

The women are supposed to provide only a massage "but there are always 'extras' - the men always suggest sex in addition to the massage," she says.

"Both the man and woman are naked, he is allowed to touch and stroke her and the massage includes sexual relief. Afterward, if the client wants 'extras' [Revital's term for fellatio and sexual intercourse] he can offer more money and the woman can agree."

The brothel operators say they provide only massages "but they are the ones making a profit while we're taking the risks," says Revital.

Nikita runs a successful massage parlor in the central region. She blames the police.

"I'm angry that the women can't use condoms. I see how stressed they are. They cannot protect themselves," she says.

But due to repeat police raids Nikita says she cannot keep condoms on the premises. "Condoms are evidence and cause for opening a criminal investigation for running a brothel. So my girls have to hide them on their person."

"Most of the women desperately need the money and neglect their health, although getting sick could be much worse for them," she says.

Nikita says it's in her interest to keep the girls healthy. "The thought of the damage a woman carrier and working without a condom can do is horrendous," she says.

A police spokesman said that the police "enforce the law. We investigate brothel ads and open cases for offenses related to prostitution, women-trafficking, pimping and running brothels."

One central region parlor is elegantly designed and presents a list of standard spa treatments, including hot-stone massage and aromatherapy. The women, aged 19 to 36, sit in an adjacent room, to which clients are led to choose their "masseuse."

At first the women deny having sex with clients but in time admit they provide an "erotic massage."

"No sex, no release," says the sign at the entrance to a massage parlor in south Tel Aviv. But a woman at reception says that "we give body massage and erotic massage, including release, for NIS 200."

The owner denies that any sexual services take place there, then softens and says that "whatever happens behind the closed door is their business. Oral, release, what do I know? The client came for a massage."

"Sex diseases are increasing. The owners don't want to lose their license and prefer to endanger the prostitutes and the public's health by banning the use of condoms," a Health Ministry spokeswoman says.

"The police have a double standard. Everyone knows that partial or full sexual intercourse takes place in these places.

Attorney Nomi Levenkron of the Hotline for Migrant Workers says the brothel operators forbid the women to use condoms, deliberately endangering their life and general public. She says the situation reflects police's inadequacy in enforcing the law.

"The police hunt the prostitutes instead of the brothel owners and pimps," she says.