The Pussycat strip club in Tel Aviv is still open for business despite losing its license two years ago. The municipality and police have not yet exercised their authority to shut it down. A past police investigation showed that the club had some back rooms in which employees were exploited nightly as prostitutes. On Monday, the Task Force against Human Trafficking and Prostitution petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court, asking it to immediately close down the club.
“Each day of inaction means another day of victims engaging in prostitution, with its attendant physical and sexual violence, degradation and abuse,” says the petition. “In this dismal state of affairs, refraining from taking action for many months means a delay for which these exploited women pay a price.”
According to the task force, the lawsuit is based on changes in the attitude of the authorities and the public to prostitution. One key difference is the change made last April to the state prosecutor’s directives, which stipulate that under some circumstances, close contact, such as a lap-dance, can be deemed an act of prostitution. Another change was the law prohibiting the buying of sex, passed last December, which stipulates that starting July 2020, those who hire prostitutes will be fined. “Up to the filing of this petition, the club continues with its regular operations,” says the suit, “thus continuing to exploit and to encourage the exploitation of these women on a nightly basis.”
A police raid on the club in 2016 found condoms, lubricants, and evidence of exploitation in its private rooms, where a session with a prostitute cost 400 shekels ($112). One quarter of this payment went to club owners. Following the raid, the task force submitted its first petition, asking for the club’s business permit to be revoked.
The Tel Aviv municipality revoked the club’s license in March 2017 – but not for prostitution ostensibly occurring on its premises, but for the illegal construction of the private rooms. These were subsequently demolished. The task force said that it withdrew its petition with the understanding that revoking the club’s license would lead to its closure.
In July 2017, the club received a temporary operating permit for three months. The police conducted further investigations showing the place continued to function as a brothel. The police recommended not granting the club’s request to extend its license. The municipality accepted this decision and the permit was not renewed. No punitive measures have been imposed on the club for operating without a license.
The Supreme Court, is to hear in 2020 the club’s owners petition against the permit cancelation, which the Tel Aviv District Court has rejected. Criminal proceedings against the owners over what was discovered in the 2016 raid were halted due to lack of sufficient evidence, as the police could not prove the club owners knew what was going on in the back rooms.
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‘A factory for sexual exploitation’
The director of the Task Force against Human Trafficking and Prostitution, attorney Nitzan Kahana, said that “due to the failure to act by the municipality and police, a factory for sexual exploitation is operating in Tel Aviv’s Atarim Square. We didn’t imagine we’d have to appeal to the courts again, almost three years after our first petition led to the revoking of the club’s business license.”
The Tel Aviv municipality responded that the business has been denied a permit and that enforcement is up to the police. The police commented, “In contrast to what has been claimed, the court did not order the club’s closure, saying that there is no room for its intervening in the police’s refusal to renew the strip club’s license.”