Bill That Would Fine Prostitutes' Clients Approved by Governmental Committee

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The sex scene on Tel Aviv's Solomon Street, September 2017.
A scene on Tel Aviv's Solomon Street, September 2017. Credit: Ilan Assayag

The government's Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill calling for fines to be imposed on clients of prostitution. The committee convened on Sunday to discuss the proposal at an exceptional meeting while the Knesset is on its summer break.

The bill will be brought for first of three rounds during the parliament's winter session, scheduled to begin on October 14.

>> Analysis: New sex work bill goes too easy on clients ■ Analysis: The new bill fining prostitution clients may change the lives of thousands of women

The government-sponsored bill is being framed as an emergency law, meaning it will be in force for five years. It defines the use of a prostitute's services as an administrative offense, which will cost first-time offenders 1,500 shekels ($406) and repeat offenders – within a period of three years – 3,000 shekels. If the accused person takes the case to court and it decides that he or she is indeed guilty, the fine could be as high as 75,300 shekels.

Sweden was the first country that, in 1999, chose to adopt the criminalization of clients of prostitution. Since the law went into effect there the number of women engaged in prostitution dropped by two thirds. The Swedish model has since been adopted by other countries such as Norway, Iceland, Canada, Ireland and France. 

The government-sponsored bill has chosen to adopt a softer version of the law than that of the Swedish model, and the softer version includes administrative enforcement rather than a criminal one.

“The government has today made a clear statement to consumers of prostitution. Trafficking in women and use of the services of a prostitute are invalid in every way. Treatment of the issue of prostitution must be expanded, and we will deal with this in the coming months,” said Justice Minister Shaked after the committee discussion.

If passed, the legislation would authorize the justice minister, with the consent of the ministers of labor, welfare and social affairs, to set regulations and determine alternative penalties.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), who framed the bill, called it “a milestone on the way to our becoming an exemplary society, which condemns the exploitation and ongoing damage done by the consumption of prostitution services. Men and women do not chose prostitution; they arrive at that point due to harsh life conditions. The State of Israel is working to root out prostitution and to rehabilitate the men and women who have fallen into this exploitative industry.”

>> Read more: Israel targets the sex industry: moving to ban internet ads, fine the johns and close websites

Moalem-Refaeli thanked the ministers of justice, education, finance, public security, welfare, and health for their cooperation in supporting the new law, as well as MK Zahava Galon (Meretz), whom she said initiated the legislative process.

If the Knesset passes the law, its enforcement will begin 18 months after it is published in the Official Gazette, to allow the state time to set up rehabilitation programs for former prostitutes, based on the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee tasked with reducing prostitution.

Also on Sunday, the ministers approved establishment of a team to implement the legislative committee’s recommendations, which include earmarking tens of millions of shekels to combatting prostitution.

Members of the coalition hope that the bill will come up for a first vote in the Knesset in the coming months, so that if the parliament is dissolved in advance of a future election, the legislative process can continue from the place where it was interrupted.

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