Israel to Launch Rehabilitation Workshops for First-time Violators of Law Against Hiring Prostitutes

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Police officers during an operation to close brothels in Tel Aviv, March 2020.
Police officers during an operation to close brothels in Tel Aviv, March 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

In the coming weeks, the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry will begin operating rehabilitation workshops for first-time offenders caught soliciting a prostitute – instead of fining them – as enforcement of the Law Prohibiting Consumption of Prostitution Services gets underway.

The workshops will focus on “the harm to people in the circle of prostitution and to consumers of prostitution, on public health issues and on myths surrounding prostitution. If necessary, patients will be referred for further treatment services. For a first offense, participation in the rehabilitation program will replace the fine.”

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Esti Sadeh, director of the ministry’s Adult Probation Service, says the ministry understands that “consumption of prostitution is not something to be combatted solely by economic means but also by explanation and rehabilitation, so we’ve added the alternative of participating in a rehabilitation program, either in a workshop or on an individual basis, with the aim of deterring them from seeking out prostitutes in the future.”

The ministry is also working to expand the rehabilitation options offered to survivors of prostitution. This past summer, the ministry opened two new rehabilitation centers, in Rishon Letzion and Ramat Gan, while the centers in Petah Tikva and Haifa have expanded their hours and now work around the clock. Also, designated apartments have been set aside for women survivors of prostitution and their children, to aid them in starting new lives and integrating into the community. There are currently 13 centers for teenage and young prostitution survivors and three such centers for older women.

The ministry has issued a 24.5-million-shekel ($7.6 million) tender to open communal frameworks for prostitution survivors, in addition to its six aid programs budgeted at 12.5 million shekels that began operating last month: Supplemental financial aid to prostitution survivors; a therapeutic program that includes preparation for and integration in employment; an educational program to help women develop academic and employment skills so they can escape prostitution; a holistic help center; and a program specifically for transgender people, as well as a program for early identification and prevention of prostitution.

A cabinet decision stipulated that 90 million shekels would be allocated over three years to expand the rehabilitation options and establish other resources. Services have been expanded in Be’er Sheva, Haifa and Tel Aviv and more services will soon be available in Jerusalem.

Before the law was passed, Israel only went after those who solicited, pimped and trafficked in human beings for the purposes of prostitution. Now, responsibility for the exploitation is also borne by the hiring of a prostitute. The law classifies using a prostitute as an administrative offense, with violators liable for a 2,000-shekel fine for a first offense and a 4,000-shekel fine for a repeat offense. The law also says that anyone found present in a brothel is a customer.

The Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution sought to advance the law for more than 11 years, at first solely with the support of former MK Zehava Galon. After many more women MKs, including Shuli Muallem, Aliza Lavi, Orit Zuaretz and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced their support, it was passed by the Knesset.

Labor Minister Itzik Shmuli calls the use of prostitution “a harmful thing in which women and men are exploited for sexual purposes, and according to the new law it is also criminal. The ministry is establishing a multitude of frameworks to help prostitution survivors leave this exploitation behind and enable them to build new lives.”

Ayelet Dayan, of the Task Force, says: “With the start of enforcement of the new law, we are entering a new age. The time has come for people to understand that no matter what story they tell themselves, consumption of prostitution is a crime. We will continue working to expand the aid and rehabilitation resources available and to prevent the exploitation of more women through prostitution.”

In 2016, a national survey on prostitution conducted by the Labor and Public Security Ministries found that there were 12,040 people in Israel working in prostitution, including about 1,000 minors. In 2017, the estimate of the number of minors was increased to 3,000, bringing the official total to about 14,000. A common age to enter prostitution is 14, and most women who enter prostitution endured sexual assault as children.

The survey found that, on average, 26,500 transactions for prostitution are made each day, and that a woman prostitute has to meet with an average of five and a half customers per day. Another finding was that 62 percent of women working as prostitutes in Israel are mothers. Many of the women expressed a desire to get out of prostitution; more than 76 percent said they would leave prostitution if they could and 71 percent said they remained prostitutes due to financial troubles. Since 2010, at least 104 women prostitutes have died, at the average age of 40.

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