Brothel Customers Undeterred by Tel Aviv Sex Worker’s Suicide

Vered Lee
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The brothel at Hayarkon 98, Tel AvivCredit: Gilad Lieberman
Vered Lee

Just three hours after a prostitute killed herself in the room at a central Tel Aviv brothel where she lived and worked, the business was back in operation, customers crowding the waiting room.

G. was 36 when she hanged herself. She immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union as a child and began working in prostitution as a teenager. She was one of the first sex workers to be hired at the brothel, at 98 Hayarkon St.

“Every day she would rise with great difficulty, as close as possible to the 6 P.M. start of her shift,” said Sharon (a pseudonym), a sex worker who was friends with G. “She would start the shift with four glasses of vodka and Hagigat [a brand of synthetic marijuana], and she’d do 20 to 30 johns, on average, until 6 A.M.”

Ella, also a sex worker, said that by living in the brothel, G. had become “a slave of the sex trade,” and that she had worked 12 hours a day, six days a week.”

One of the oldest and best-known brothels in Tel Aviv, it employs eight to 12 women per 12-hour shift. Four or five years ago, police issued a closure order against the brothel, but after a legal battle it was revoked.

“The atmosphere has become difficult and violent,” Sharon said. “The operator no longer comes here, so the guard and his wife run it.”

G. was a sex worker for nearly 20 years, and gradually she became addicted to drugs.

“I saw her crying more than once. It was always hard for her to get up for her shift,” Ella said, adding, “She always wanted to sleep. She sent the message she had nothing to get up for.”

Once a week, G. would take a day off to visit her sister, whom she supported financially, Sharon said.

“When G. returned from the visit last Wednesday, it was clear she was a bit depressed. She began the shift, but after four customers, she said she didn’t want any more that night. It’s unusual to leave a shift in the middle, especially because she had never done it before,” Sharon said.

On Thursday, when G. didn’t get up for her shift and didn’t respond to yelling and pounding on the door, the brothel managers forced the door opened. G. had hanged herself.

Sharon and Ella were outraged that the brothel was reopened so soon after G.’s death.

“It’s inhuman,” Sharon said. “A woman committed suicide, it’s a tragic, terrible event, the police come, and after three hours everything continues as usual, with complete disregard for the value of a human life.”

The suicide has upset female sex workers in the city and advocacy organizations that fight prostitution. A demonstration has been scheduled for Saturday at 8 P.M. outside the brothel.

Naama Ze’evi Rivlin, the director of Sla’it, a program established by the city to help sex workers, said the incident had led to a sharp increase in calls to Sla’it’s hotline.

“Women are calling to say it has triggered depression and difficult memories,” Ze’evi Rivlin said.

Tali Koral, the CEO of another organization that works to raise awareness about and to combat prostitution, Machon Todaa, said many people think prostitutes working in brothels or discreet apartments are better protected than street sex workers. This view “has no basis in reality,” she said; such women suffer the same emotional and physical violence that other prostitutes do.

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