One-third of Israeli Men Have Paid for Sexual Services at Least Once, Survey Finds

Almost half of the men who have paid for sexual services in the past five years say the new law imposing a ban on frequenting prostitutes won't influence them, according to a poll conducted by Tel Aviv University

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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An anti-prostitution rally in Tel Aviv, 2018.
An anti-prostitution rally in Tel Aviv, 2018. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Nearly one in three Israeli men have paid for sexual services at least once, while one out of six men have done so more than once, according to a survey conducted by Tel Aviv University.

The online survey, conducted in January, polled some 2,000 Jewish men and women. Most of the respondents did not express an unequivocal stance regarding the ban on hiring sex workers, which became law on Friday, making soliciting or patronizing prostitutes a criminal offense. The majority of those polled, however, said that the law would not reduce the consumption of prostitution and will harm sex workers.

The study was led by Dr. Guy Shilo, Prof. Einat Peled and Prof. Hila Shamir, and funded by the European Union Council and the Trafflab interdisciplinary research group at Tel Aviv University.

The survey's definition of paid sexual services included prostitution, stripteases, erotic massages, cybersex, and sexual relations in exchange for "financial support." According to the findings, 31.2 percent of male respondents and 3.4 percent of female respondents said that they had used such services in the past.

There were no differences in age, income and family status between people who have paid for sex and those who have not. "The survey underlines what we knew from previous studies about men who pay for sex. This is a broad and diverse population, and therefore social treatment of these men should include various models of intervention,” Prof. Peled said.

Men who had paid for sexual services were divided into two groups of similar size – those who had done so once and those who had done so multiple times. About 10 percent of the men from the latter group said that they had paid for sex more frequently in recent years, or throughout their adult life. The average age at which men hired a sex worker for the first time was 24, with 45 percent saying they had done so before turning 21.

Most of the men who paid for sexual services did so in brothels, their homes, or hotels. Eleven percent procured the services of a sex worker on the street. Men who paid for sexual services only once mainly did so as part of carousing with friends or a partner. Most of the men who had used paid sexual services more than once said it was “part of going out for some fun,” “an easy way to have sex,” “an opportunity to relieve stress,” or “to do things I couldn’t get otherwise.” Another common explanation among men who paid for sex only once was that the "opportunity happened to come up."

Police conduct a raid to uncover brothels in Tel Aviv in March, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The study also examined how men felt about paying for sexual services. Eighty-sex percent of the men who had paid for sex more than once and 64 percent of those for whom it was a one-time experience described positive feelings regarding their actions. One-third of the men who did it once said they felt bad about it, whereas only one-tenth of those who paid for sex more than once described feeling negatively towards it. In addition, one-fifth of those who paid for sex multiple times said they would like to stop doing so, while one-third of them said they want to continue.

Some 3.4 percent of the respondents said they had received money in exchange for sex, with two thirds of them being men. “Even though women may be more impacted by the stigma associated with receiving money for sex, and consequently tend to mention it less, the preliminary data calls for further study and for a new way of thinking about the characteristics of people receiving money in exchange for sex,” one of the researchers wrote. Half of those who had received money for sex said they had done so more than once.

Sixty-eight percent of the participants who received money for providing sexual services said they themselves had paid for sexual services.

“This information is relevant and requires attention, since it points to a different reality than the one finding expression in public, legal or therapeutic discussions, which tend to dichotomize between those who pay for sex and those who receive payment,” one researcher says.

According to the study, the number of LGBTQ respondents who said they had paid for sexual services is double that of those who do not identify as members of that community. One third of the men who had received money for sex defined themselves as homosexual or bisexual. More than 40 percent of the men who said they had paid for sex services once in recent years used the services of men or transgender men or women.

The survey did not support any of the two prominent approaches to handling prostitution in Israeli society – allowing it with regulation, or total prohibition and criminalization of both customers and sex workers.

Two thirds of the respondents supported a policy of prevention and treatment, including a ban on pimping and helping people working in prostitution to abandon the trade, as well employing explanatory measures aimed at preventing people from becoming sex workers or consuming prostitution. In addition, women are more inclined than men to support criminalization and prevention, expressing less support for regulation than men, the study shows.

An anti-prostitution rally in Tel Aviv, 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Twelve percent of the respondents believe that the new law incriminating those employing sex workers would not reduce the incidence of prostitution, compared to 25 percent who disagree with this claim. Sixteen percent say that the law will harm sex workers. Almost half of the men who paid for sexual services in the past five years said the law would not have any impact on them. One-third of the men who had paid for sex more than once said they would not do so as often once the law is implemented. One-fifth of the men said they would pay for sexual services abroad.

The findings led the researchers to conclude that the deterrent effect of the new law is limited. “In my opinion, the law and fines imposed on those committing the offense are far from what is required to curtail the exploitation and harm done to women and men who are paid for providing sexual services” Prof. Peled says.

Prof. Shamir added that “There's a risk that the public will not make the distinction between people paying for sex and people who are sex workers, on which the new law is based, making the attitude toward those the law is trying to protect more negative,” she said.

According to Shamir, “While surveys like we've conducted are important for deepening our understanding of public perceptions of these issues, it’s particularly important to hear what the sex workers have to say and understand their needs.

"Many sex workers' groups around the world, including in Israel, have expressed opposition to this law. It’s important that the policy adopted be based on knowledge and data, while considering the needs of the population the law seeks to protect and influence,” Shamir said.

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