Israel Ramps Up Penalizing Clients of Women in Prostitution, Issuing Dozens of Fines

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A police raid on brothels in Tel Aviv last year.
A police raid on brothels in Tel Aviv last year.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The police have issued dozens of tickets for paying for sexual services in recent weeks, enforcing a law passed at the start of the year. In the first six months after the law went into effect, only 12 fines were issued. Most of the fines of 2,000 shekels ($624) were issued in Haifa and in south Tel Aviv.

According to police records, more than 50 fines were issued in the rest of the country over the past three months.

A source told Haaretz on the condition of anonymity that over the past few weeks about 30 additional fines were issued in south Tel Aviv, mostly in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood surrounding the city’s central bus station. The enforcement operation followed protests by residents against prostitution in the area.

In Haifa, police officers issued 10 fines after raiding a brothel in the city in early September. Seven fines were issued in the city in August.

Police officials told Haaretz that the increase in fines reflects a shift to stricter enforcement of the law. An official in the Tel Aviv District said the “law is new for everyone, but we are on board and enforcing it. The customers are already aware of this, which requires more sophisticated approaches from us.”

At a law enforcement meeting held in May, police representatives said that since there is still no alternative means for enforcement, and due to the numerous other responsibilities they already have because of the pandemic, the police are not equipped to enforce the law effectively. Nonetheless, the representative promised that great effort would be expended to do so. She also said that difficulties were to be expected by using only fines to enforce the law, and that it would be more effective to question clients by police.

Along with the rise in police activity, current and past women in prostitution report increased distress because the welfare services do not sufficiently serve their needs. Among the services offered are housing assistance, unemployment compensation for those in vocational training programs or seeking work, subsistence allowances for older women who cannot find work and fighting violence against women in prostitution.

“While the customer is fined thousands of shekels, the police are taking from women thousands and tens of thousands of shekels for paying rent and living expenses,” said the Ahoti and Argaman women’s organizations. They noted that the idea that the police are coordinating with welfare organizations "is a sick joke."

"They don’t need police officers to fine clients- they need housing and respectable living solutions.”

“From the impressions we have receives, it seems the police have treated the women appropriately," the director of the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, Or Abu, told Haaretz. “Though we always have a fear that women will be harmed along the way during enforcement operations, the purpose of the law is to help them. We expect from the police to present proper work plans and also go to other places where there is prostitution...such as Eilat and Jerusalem,” said Abu.

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