Not long ago I walked into a store and the salesman gave me a penetrating look. I looked back at him and, surprised, we both burst into laughter. The last time I encountered him was six months ago, near the old central bus station in Tel Aviv, while I was interviewing male street prostitutes. Since then he has pulled himself out of prostitution; he is renting an apartment with a roommate and once again working in a store. He spoke in anguish about the friends he left behind on the street, and asked if the article I wrote had prompted anyone to establish rehabilitation centers that help men, not just women.
This is a question I want to take to the Knesset subcommittee on trafficking in women, which is holding a joint session today with the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child on "the sexual commercial exploitation and prostitution of male and female minors in Israel."
A government program to remove women from the cycle of prostitution and drugs has been in place for almost three years. Through it, women have access to emergency housing, a help hotline and a rehabilitation hostel. The war on prostitution in Israel has taken a big step forward. Women who are trapped in the sex industry, wandering the streets in a drugged state or sleeping at escort agencies, on the sidewalk or at their clients' homes can now be lent a hand that will help pull them out of the hell in which they are living and allow them to integrate into society.
But male prostitutes have been left to their fate. Male prostitution in Israel has yet to be researched in depth, though it is already widespread and its prevalence is on the rise. The business of prostitution is conducted in the streets and in apartments (thanks to the Internet, which has become what some call "the new pimp" ); sometimes there may be a sponsor who offers shelter, among other forms of payment, in exchange for sexual services.
On the street, male prostitutes rank lower than female ones. While one can usually identify female prostitutes by looking at them, the men - afflicted by shame and self-hatred - generally do anything they can to hide what they do. Like the women, most of the men ran away from violent homes and became victims of sexual abuse. They develop symptoms of mental stress, anxiety disorders, addiction, personality disorders and depression, and exhibit suicidal tendencies.
In Israel, many of the male prostitutes are minors or in their 20s, though some are 30 or older. Some ran away from home because of their sexual tendencies and see prostitution as a survival technique. Others became addicted to drugs or found themselves living in the street after losing everything else. They include illegal residents and, more recently, refugees.
There is no rehabilitation solution in Israel today - one that includes transitional housing, employment assistance and mental health treatment - to help men who want to leave the cycle of prostitution. They need assistance in all areas of life - housing, health, education and social networking - just like the assistance their female counterparts receive through the government.
A partial, limited solution is provided by organizations like the Health Ministry's Levinsky Clinic, a walk-in clinic for sexually transmitted diseases; Dror, a temporary shelter for gay adolescents; and the Elem center for at-risk youth. But the bitter truth is that for men who want to leave prostitution and rehabilitate themselves, there is no real solution. The Social Affairs Ministry has not bothered to create a program to rescue the teenage boys and men who are trapped in prostitution and bring them back from the margins of society.
It appears that the women's organizations that come out against prostitution and the trafficking of women are forgetting that if they want to eradicate the crime of prostitution, they must demand a solution for the treatment and rehabilitation of male prostitutes as well. Their struggle could have been more effective if the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were to speak out loudly and clearly against male prostitution. The LGBT community is already fervent about fighting against the trafficking of women; it should direct the same level of enthusiasm toward creating a treatment and rehabilitation program for men trapped in prostitution.
קראו כתבה זו בעברית: המקום שבו מפלים גברים
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