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New Israeli Bill Fining Prostitution Clients May Change Thousands of Women's Lives

The government-sponsored bill does not go as far as the Swedish model, which criminalizes johns, but it is a positive step forward

Vered Lee
Vered Lee
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FILE PHOTO: A sex worker in Tel Aviv, 2016.
FILE PHOTO: A sex worker in Tel Aviv, 2016.Credit: ASAblanca / Getty Images
Vered Lee
Vered Lee

After many years during which the government, police and courts lent a hand to the quiet institutionalization of the prostitution industry across the country, the government finally woke up, and in a revolutionary and precedent-setting move initiated legislation that may lead to the uprooting of this social ill, moving Israeli society towards enhanced justice and equality.

>> Read more: Bill that would fine prostitutes' clients approved by governmental committee

Sweden was the first country that, in 1999, chose to adopt the criminalization of clients of prostitution. Since the law went into effect there the number of women engaged in prostitution dropped by two thirds. The law managed to block the entry of new women into the world of prostitution. The legislation reduced the number of users, and public support for the law there grows every year.

The Swedish model has since been adopted by other countries such as Norway, Iceland, Canada, Ireland and France. Legislation based on the Swedish model publicly and legally brands sex consumers as criminals. Consumers are the hidden components in the chain of trafficking in women and prostitution, but their money is what drives and feeds crime organizations.

The face of prostitution in Israel has changed over the last decades. At the beginning of the previous decade it was based on victims of human trafficking from countries belonging to the former Soviet Union, who were brought here under coercion and false pretenses. Today it is based on Israeli women from all reaches of society, including women who suffer from hunger or are overwhelmed by debt (most of them mothers), women addicted to drugs, at-risk youths, transgender people, youths thrown out of their homes due to their sexual orientation and asylum seekers. Over the last four years trafficking from abroad has returned, using more sophisticated and covert methods.

File photo, a brothel in Tel AvivCredit: Meged Gozani

The government-sponsored bill has chosen to adopt a softer version of the law than that of the Swedish model, and the softer version includes administrative enforcement rather than a criminal one. But one should not take lightly the fact that Israel has formulated a clear and unambiguous statement regarding the uprooting of prostitution, and its willingness for the first time to take responsibility for the many years of neglect of a population that was prone to slide into prostitution. One can only hope that it will quickly be brought to an initial Knesset vote, and that the government adopts an inter-ministerial program for dealing with prostitution, one which will expand the range of options available to these women, as promised by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

“It moves me to tears” said Einat (not her real name), a 28-year-old single mother who was sexually assaulted by a relative throughout her childhood and who started working as a prostitute at 19. She worked in massage parlors and discreet apartments almost up to the day she gave birth. “My greatest fear is returning to that world. I stopped five years ago but the fear is still there. I think of women who don’t want to be doing that but who remain there since there aren’t any other options available to them. If the state manages to develop suitable solutions, no woman would be a prostitute.”

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