Despite Law, Solicitation of Sex From Minors Goes Unpunished

Law protecting minors evoked once since 2000; volunteer group: 1000 underage prostitutes in Israel.

Ruth Sinai
Haaretz Correspondents
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Bat Yam resident Vadim Bartel, 41, was arrested in August under suspicion that he had prostituted a 15-year-old girl. He was caught "red handed" sending the girl to a customer who had requested "fresh meat." Vadim was charged with pandering, but the customer went unpunished, as did others who had enjoyed the girl's services since she had been 14.

According to paragraph 203gimmel of the penal code, the punishment for soliciting sexual services from a minor is three years in prison. The law went into effect in 2000 and is the only law in Israel that penalizes consumers of sexual services. The law was formulated in order to protect minors.

However, since 2000, the law has been put to practice only once, and only in the confines of a plea bargain. The police say that the law is not utilized because there are not that many underage prostitutes. Elem, a non-profit organization that helps youth in distress, maintain however that more than 1000 teenagers regularly engage in prostitution across the country.

In the coming days, Elem is planning to launch a campaign aimed at raising the public's awareness of this phenomenon. The campaign's aim is to drive home the realization that people who solicit sexual services from minors are having sex with children. "The less demand there is for underage prostitutes, the less underage prostitutes there will be," said Zion Gabbay, the director of Elem.

"We are talking about thousands of adults that solicit sex from minors," he said. "We are a macho male society, and in some cultures it is considered a conquest to have sex with what is often termed 'fresh meat.' These minors are all victims of difficult lives, and those who utilize their services are exploiting their distress."

Elem volunteers work undercover to seek out these teen prostitutes. They use the Internet as well as spa clubs that are often linked to organized crime. Gabbay believes that around 25 percent of underage prostitution occurs in these spa clubs.

The problem of how to treat consumers of sex services faces many countries. Sweden is the only country in the world that passed a law incriminating clients, but according to MK Zehava Gal-On, who heads a committee to combat woman trafficking, the Swedish law has not diminished the scope of prostitution in the country.

"If there is demand, there will be supply," said Gal-On. "Those who solicit sex services from minors must be aware that they are in danger of going to prison."

Gal-On believes that the police's priorities are not in order when they enforce laws against pimps but not clients. "In my view, clients cooperate with the pimps and are therefore equally guilty," she said.

The police believe the number of underage prostitutes is much lower than Elem's estimate. "If we catch someone with a minor, we never let them slide," said the head of the police's youth division Chief Superintendent Suzie Ben-Baruch. "However, I don't recall perpetrators being caught with minors in the last three years."