Tinder in Israel Has Become a Thriving Arena for Prostitution

In some cases, Tinder profiles seemingly offering 'support' are actually traps for teenage girls

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he Tinder Inc. application is displayed on a smartphone in an arranged photograph
Tinder in Israel has become a thriving arena for prostitution. Pictured: The Tinder Inc. application is displayed on a smartphone in an arranged photograph.Credit: Sara Hylton/Bloomberg

Dating apps such as Tinder, which were once considered completely innocent ways of meeting people, have become platforms awash with prostitution over recent years.

Reut Guy, who works at the Elem – Youth in Distress nonprofit, warns that the web has made prostitution “very simple and accessible.” This is especially true for youngsters who are always on their phones, Guy says, adding, “Criminal elements operate on the internet and are trying to recruit workers for prostitution. Type ‘escort’ into Facebook, and even before you finish typing you’ll see how many results you get.”

Gal Emmet, 23, went on Tinder looking for love. She met someone who was using a false name and had an arty picture instead of a recognizable image of himself on his profile. It quickly emerged they knew each other: They had met for the first time a few years earlier on a web chat. At the time, he wanted to fulfill a fantasy of a threesome and was willing to pay for it. Gal and a friend of hers were strippers who needed to earn extra money, so they agreed.

“It wasn’t the first meeting and not the last I had with somebody like that,” says Emmet. “I met ‘customers’ on Tinder or Facebook who I had met in the past, and they felt comfortable talking to me as if we were old lovers, as if we were ‘old buddies.’”

The man tried to have a cerebral chat with Emmet about the “circumstances” that led the two of them to their previous meeting. She tried to make it clear to him the harsh circumstances of her life did not exempt him from answering the question of why he chose to pay for sex, or to understand why he was so sure he was better than other clients of prostitution because he met her on a web chat and not in a brothel.

Financial distress

Emmet says the first time she encountered real prostitution was on a regular dating site. She was looking for a relationship and met a man who offered money for sex. Tinder, which has become the most popular dating app, is thought to be a favorite for such men.

One of the most common ways prostitution has spread online is through a relationship with “support.” If you go on Tinder, you can see a profile offering such a relationship, which usually means a sexual relationship between an older and well-off man (sometimes they are; sometimes they aren’t) and a young woman in financial distress, who will be available for him when he wants – and who won’t ask any questions.

The Tinder app. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Such relationships are absolutely prostitution, says Natalie Levin Ohana, co-director of the Awareness Center (Toda’a) nonprofit for combating prostitution and raising awareness of its harsh consequences.

“This is a trap that draws you in with all sorts of promises like ‘Hanging out with a rich man’ or ‘You’ll have a great time if you’re fun and go with it.’ All this language is very euphemistic and deceptive. The barter relationship is very clear but not open,” Ohana notes.

Idit Harel-Shemesh, director of the nongovernmental organization Mitos – the Day After Prostitution, relates how young women who fall into such relationships are likely to see the balance of power in reverse. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s ‘He is such an idiot! All I did was blow him and he bought me jeans and concert tickets, and I got this and that out of him.’ This is a distorted view because they don’t understand who is in control and think that nothing is really happening to them,” explains Harel-Shemesh.

Activists fighting prostitution say that in many cases, the Tinder profiles offering “support” are really just a trap, a fictitious offer that just means recruiting women and girls to work in the sex industry.

One activist told Haaretz of how she tried to speak with a man who described himself on his profile as “Ron, a 27-year-old in high-tech from Tel Aviv who is looking to meet a good-looking and high-class girl for a fun, intimate and enjoyable relationship, with much financial support on his part.”

The activist said she spoke to Ron, but she sensed that he felt she was asking too many questions and immediately blocked her – and then disappeared.

Identical and discouraging

Prostitution on Tinder has been a known problem for years. In 2014, Gawker published a story called “Tinder is full of robot prostitutes.” These are “spambots” that collect information and masquerade as real users. The operators behind the bots are hoping to tempt horny users to visit various websites – “hookup” and porn sites, for example – that pay the bot operators $6 for every person they get to sign up, and even more if they sign up for a premium channel.

London is thought to be a hub for Tinder prostitution, something the Debrief website wrote about in 2015. Women offering sex would appear in their profile pictures in their underwear and the description of the services they offered – for example, the “GFE” (girlfriend experience) for “80 roses” (in other words, 80 pounds, or $103).

A Tinder spokesman told Haaretz that users or profiles promoting prostitution violate the conditions of use and the company has a system designed to remove such profiles from its app. Users who find a profile that violates the terms of use are encouraged to report it, he added.

The problem with such a system is that it requires reporting and cannot keep pace with new profiles being opened.

The Knesset Subcommittee on Combating Trafficking in Women and Prostitution met recently to discuss the topic “Prostitution in the palm of your hand.” After the session, Chairwoman Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) wrote on Facebook: “So far, in the many years the phenomenon has existed, only one (!) investigation has been opened.”

Emmet gives speeches in high schools about prostitution and says the responses she hears are identical and discouraging. “At the end of the lecture, a [guidance counselor] always comes to me with a girl,” she relates. “She says she needs to talk to me, and tells me horrible things. Young women tell me, ‘You saved my life. Someone approached me on Tinder and offered me this proposal. I seriously considered it and now I understand how it can end.’

“A young woman going on Tinder and talking to men one after another is treated like a ‘hole.’ She gets the impression this is how it works in the real world,” Emmet adds. “They don’t see it as ‘providing sexual services’; they think that’s how relationships look – to receive something, you need to give something in return, and what does she have to give except her body?”

Ultimately, prostitution and recruiting for prostitution always existed, but these new apps blur the lines.

Many people are on Tinder, and under certain circumstances there are some who may agree to an offer that on the street they would reject. Equally, a man making an offer may feel more comfortable, and even think the girl he is paying for sex “likes him.”

This is what the man at the beginning of this article believed, writing Emmet he was “outraged at the description” when she insisted he was a client of prostitution. The real reaction to that description should be not to create a situation in which you could be included in it, she told him.