Israel Cabinet Approves Bill That Criminalizes Soliciting Prostitution

Law would provide for an educational program for first-time offenders, while Second-time offenders could face imprisonment for up to six months.

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Israels Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a draft law on Sunday that would impose prison sentences of up to six months for solicitors of sexual services.

The draft law, which was strongly championed by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), chairwoman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, would provide for an educational program for first-time offenders, in order to allow them to avoid jail time. Second-time offenders will face imprisonment. The law will be brought forth to a vote in the Knesset plenum.

Male prostitutes are becoming increasingly commonplace around Tel Aviv’s old Central Bus Station.Credit: Nir Kafri

The bill was modeled on similar legislation enacted in other countries that, she said, has reduced the scale of prostitution in those nations.

"The international community's concern over the trade in women for the purposes of prostitution and their transport to Israel motivated us to hold concurrent protests in a number of places," Zuaretz said last week. "We want to make it clear to the decision makers that decisive decisions on this matter are necessary."

The annual turnover of Israel's sex industry, according to a number of sources, is at least NIS 2.4 billion. According to estimates based on accounts by female prostitutes, in 2007 about one million visits per month were made to organized sex trade establishments, with each woman seeing an average of 10 customers a day. According to police, in the Tel Aviv area alone between 250 and 400 apartments are used for prostitution.

A youth advocacy organization says that around a third of the estimated 15,000 people engaged in prostitution in Israel are teenagers. In addition, the Social Affairs Ministry estimates that at least 90 percent of Israel's female sex workers are controlled by pimps, and on average they begin working as prostitutes between the ages of 12 and 14.

Furthermore, recent studies indicate that 82 percent of the women or girls involved in prostitution are or were subjected to physical violence, with 55 percent of the injuries being caused by customers.

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