Finding a Way Out of Prostitution

Daria (full name withheld), a university graduate, has been working four months in a brothel. On Tuesday afternoon, she comes for therapy at the apartment in Haifa that is the headquarters for Ofek Nashi, a comprehensive new program to help women find a way out of prostitution.

For the past three years, Daria has suffered from an illness that has limited her functioning. Her increasing depression and anxiety attacks have made it difficult for her to work in her original profession, debts piled up, she began to take more pills, and she started working in brothels to earn money.

The staff of Ofek Nashi met her at the brothel. "We saw her sitting there afraid, she was in a shocking state," said Beatrice Rosen-Katz, a social worker who heads the program in Haifa.

"Maybe people think prostitution is 'easy money,' but it's not," Daria says. "I'm still poor, I still have debts. I want to get out of prostitution. I try to disconnect from my body during work and I just can't. I came to work in a brothel in Tel Aviv and it's like a zoo. Eight or nine girls, men come with the client just to watch. I am 30 years old and there are younger girls working who are willing to do everything and I can't compete with that. The clients are the kind that saw a pornographic movie and they come to fulfill their wild fantasies."

Daria describes her fear that people close to her will find out, and she speaks of the loneliness that is closing in on her. "I am in terrible trouble. A week and a half ago I collapsed in a hospital in the south where I am getting psychological treatment and they don't know what's happening to me. Only in this apartment can I really talk about what I'm going through."

Anastasia (full name withheld), has been working in prostitution for 11 years. She came to Israel at the age of 11, is divorced and raising her son alone. A man she met got her into financial trouble, beat her and put her to work as a prostitute. "I didn't come to Israel to be a prostitute," she says, her eyes full of tears. "I had other dreams. My soul is wiped out. I am zero. I have stopped feeling. I am like a machine. Forty men a night and I am dying inside."

Anastasia says she has repeatedly tried to get work in a factory but she gets fired and goes back to prostitution. "All my friends are gone. I have no family. Every night I work the street."

At the center she has already been placed in a Hebrew class and the employment coordinator has gotten her a cleaning job. "They give me strength and faith that I can start again." Anastasia says of Ofek Nashi.

Ofek Nashi, a country-wide program to help women get out of prostitution, was initiated by the Authority for the Advancement of Women in the Prime Minister's office and is a joint effort of the education, social affairs and health ministries, in cooperation with the Tel Aviv and Haifa municipalities.

It recently began operating in Tel Aviv (where it is called Sal'it) and as Ofek Nashi in Haifa, with an annual budget of NIS 10 million . It was planned and is coordinated by Tzipi Nachshon Glick, the national supervisor for treatment of family violence in the Social Affairs Ministry, and Anat Gur, head of rehabilitation of women prisoners in the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, and Mirit Danon, the head of the Authority for the Advancement of Women. Glick says that this is the first time the government has taken responsibility for women who have been abandoned by society, and they direct the response to a wide range of needs the program represents.

Both in Haifa and in Tel Aviv the program provides emergency housing in an apartment with room for 15 beds, which allow women a short respite from the street, a shower, and a hot meal. Each apartment has a staff of criminologists, social workers, psychiatrists, employment counselors, volunteers and, as mentors, former prostitutes.

The program also operates mobile clinics that treat women on the streets and makes contact with them. The apartment, which in Tel Aviv is near the central bus station, operates an emergency phone number 24 hours a day, staffed by therapists and volunteers (1-800-200-690) and in January a residential hostel will open in Tel Aviv for women from all over the country who will live there for a year and receive all necessary treatment, as well as host workshops for non-residents.

The Tel Aviv apartment has been operating at full occupancy since the program opened this week. "Twelve women addicts from the area of the central bus station have already found shelter here," Na'ama Rivlin, the director of the Tel Aviv program, Sal'it, says. Rivlin tells about one of the calls she received on the hotline - from a worried mother who asked for help for her daughter who has begun working in a brothel and is being extorted, but communication with her has been cut off.

"What is special about this project is that it can help women who are addicts, those who are not, those who are homeless, and those who are living with a violent partner and working at a brothel. It's the first time a program offers a full array of treatment for women working in prostitution and gives them a ray of life in the hell in which they are imprisoned."

Rosen-Katz calls the program, "a statement by society that it is no longer going to ignore these women, their exploitation and the traumas they go through and is helping in a real way for the first time."

Nana (full name withheld), 32, is a mentor on the staff at the Haifa apartment. She came to live in Israel at a young age with her mother. At age 13 she began to use drugs and by 18 she was addicted to heroin. Post-partum depression, hunger and addiction drove her to work for two years as a prostitute at a highway junction. Her memory of those days is foggy; all she remembers is the bone-chilling cold.

She tried to get off of drugs, the reason she worked as a prostitute, and failed. "One time a man came from the establishment and offered to get me into a drug treatment program in exchange for sex," she recalls. "I had no choice and I agreed. I remember the shame and the self-hatred but that's how I got into rehab. They knew me in social services and no one helped me or saved me. Today I am in a different place. I managed to rehabilitate myself, I have been drug-free for more than a decade, and I have two jobs. I wish for women who want to get out of prostitution not to go through such trauma on the way to rehabilitation."