Number of Women Brought to Israel for Prostitution on the Rise - and the Police Are Struggling to Deal With It

Dozens of women enter Israel legally on tourist visas after being contacted on internet by pimps promising big money

Stickers offering 'massages' in Tel Aviv
Tomer Appelbaum

The number of women brought to Israel to work in prostitution under the pretense that they’re tourists has risen significantly, the head of the Border Control unit told a parliamentary panel on Wednesday.

Since the beginning of the year, 72 women from Ukraine and Georgia were caught during an attempt to enter Israel illegally presumably for prostitution, Michal Yosefov told the Knesset subcommittee on combating trafficking in women and prostitution.

Many of the women who arrive in Israel to work as prostitutes enter as tourists because they come from countries whose citizens are exempt from obtaining a visa. Such agreements have been signed in recent years with a number of countries considered to be major sources of trafficking in women, such as Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Georgia. This phenomenon has grown greatly over the past two years, as law enforcement officials have found it very difficult to identify such women when they enter the country, or to charge the criminals who have brought them to Israel.

In most cases, the criminals contact women in Russia or Ukraine over the internet and approach them to come to Israel to be sex workers, while promising them large sums of money. They arrive in Israel completely legally as tourists and usually make it through Border Control without any suspicion.

Border Control has begun operating according to a new protocol to locate such victims of human trafficking, and turn to the police in suspicious cases such as in cases of some women filing requests for extending their stay.

There are about 12,000 prostitutes working in Israel, 85 percent of whom are women, 5 percent men and 10 percent underage girls, according to Social Affairs Ministry study.

Police have a 'long way to go'

Anti-prostitution rally in Tel Aviv in 2016
David Bachar

The police told the subcommittee they are opening 230 to 270 cases a year for crimes related to prostitution, such as pimping, human trafficking and advertising prostitution. A representative of the State Prosecutor’s Office, Lilach Shalom, said the prosecution and the police agree improvement is needed in fighting prostitution and human trafficking, and they “have a long way to go.”

The police are far behind in dealing with minors working as prostitutes compared to what could have been done, said Shalom.

The directors general of the relevant government ministries and other senior officials appeared before the subcommittee, chaired by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), to present their positions on legislation that would make patronizing prostitutes a crime.

As in previous sessions on the issue, representatives of the Immigrant Absorption Authority did not attend, even though 52 percent of women working in prostitution are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Eliezer Rosenbaum, director general of the Public Security Ministry, proposed establishing police vice squads, such as the one that operates in Tel Aviv and other areas around the country. Prostitution has been spilling over into new areas, he said. Efrat Sharabi from the Social Affairs Ministry said prostitution is not dealt with properly in Jerusalem and Eilat and the ministry is considering establishing frameworks for treating the problem in both cities. An emergency shelter for sex workers will open in an apartment in Be’er Sheva this month, she said.

The IDF said it does not receive information from the Social Affairs Ministry about minors who work as prostitutes before they are drafted, while the ministry said in response that such information is confidential. At Lavie’s request, the director general of the Social Affairs Ministry, Avigdor Kaplan, said he would examine the possibility of removing such secrecy and passing the information on to the IDF.

Kaplan told the subcommittee his ministry does not have adequate resources to deal with the problem of prostitution, but if it were to receive such resources it would expand its operations.