"Lots of religious men from Jerusalem enter our place. They look really embarrassed. Some ask me to close the establishment for an hour - and 20 of them turn up in a group."
Thus a pimp gave evidence yesterday to a special parliamentary committee on sex trafficking. The session was devoted to pimps.
Jackie Yazdi, owner of a brothel that flourished before being shut down by authorities last year, alluded to a wide variety of clients. These included husbands who come to perform types of sex acts which they are unable to pursue at home, soldiers who lack girlfriends, foreign workers, Palestinians from the territories and more.
Accurate records of men who resort to sex-for-pay are hard to come by. In Israel, some estimate that there are one million visits a month to massage parlors. That figure, which will be presented today to the parliamentary committee which is headed by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), is based on the following calculations: police estimate that 3,000 women have been brought to Israel as sex workers. They work 30 days a month and have at least ten clients a day. These figures do not include Israeli women who work as prostitutes; there is less information about the number of clients they have per day.
The brunt of public discussion about sex trafficking focuses on the sex workers and pimps, and not on their clients. In a position paper to be submitted to the parliamentary committee today, attorney Naomi Levenkron argues that the lack of information about clients derives from a number of reasons - the sex industry depends upon client anonymity, and cultural norms regard sex purchasers as "real men" who should be given some leeway. In contrast, the pimps and sex workers who prostitute themselves are treated as the real guilty parties; that the industry would not exist were it not for the male clients is conveniently over-looked. Levenkron has led the campaign in Israel against sex trafficking for several years. Based on testimony she has culled from its victims, Levenkron concludes that the majority of their clients are Israelis. Some are regular customers. A police raid of a massage parlor in Tel Aviv two months ago uncovered discount tickets; regular customers receive a free visit after 12 paid visits to the brothel.
The draft paper submitted by Levenkron, with the help of student workers from the institute she heads that battles sex trafficking (the paper's arguments will be amplified and published in July), argues for a revolutionary and controversial approach: Criminal prosecution of the clients. Today, Sweden stands alone for its laws which punish persons who purchase sex; they face prison terms of six months. The research carried out by Levenkron's group indicates that most states in the U.S. ban prostitution, yet tend to prosecute sex workers more vigorously than male clients.
In Israel, laws ban pimping, and also maintaining facilities for use in prostitution. But the prostitute and the male who purchases sex from her do not face criminal prosecution.
In cases in which it can be proven that there were signs the sex worker was held in a brothel against her will, and the client ignored this fact, the paper submitted by Levenkron's group recommends that the male by prosecuted for rape.
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