Israeli Gov't Committee Opts for 'Soft Criminalization' of Prostitute Clients

Committee members opted for legal solution whereby only on the third offense would a criminal file be opened against the client

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Government committee members opted for a "soft criminalization" approach to clients of prostitutes.
Government committee members opted for a "soft criminalization" approach to clients of prostitutes.Credit: The Knesset

A year and a half after it was set up, a committee charged with finding ways to criminalize patrons of prostitutes published its findings on Tuesday. The committee, headed by Emmy Palmor, the Justice Ministrys director-general, could not agree on the correct model for criminalizing prostitution customers and passed the buck to the Knesset and cabinet. The committee was appointed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who will now have to decide on a model and initiate a government bill.

The committee discussed an administrative enforcement model that carried no criminal record, as opposed to a scaled, soft criminalization model, by which only on a third occasion would a customer be designated a criminal. Since its last meeting in June the committee has tried to reach a solution with Shaked, who preferred the administrative model. Committee members ultimately recommended that if using prostitutes is deemed a criminal offense, they favor scaled criminalization.

Ultimately, the report presents lawmakers with different alternatives wrote Palmor. This goes beyond professional considerations and depends on societal values, which should underlie a more general government policy. Prostitution is not ordained by fate and the state has an obligation to use every educational, welfare and therapy tool to steer young people away from entering this world.

Shaked has said in the past that as long as there is no prohibition on prostitution, We are sending signals that it is legitimate. She pledged to promote legislation that would criminalize customers, following private bills that set up a mechanism for achieving this. There are also programs for rehabilitating women who abandon prostitution.

The committee noted that legislation is the third and last measure it recommends, after rehabilitation and treatment of women who work in prostitution. The report offers two models – a criminal enforcement and an administrative one. The latter avoids a criminal record, and is suitable for technical violations such as not wearing safety belts, which have no social or moral implications. This model will label buying sexual services as an administrative violation, leading to a fine.

This models advantages are efficient enforcement without resorting to a legal process that criminalizes customers. The question is whether this is suitable for the purchase of sexual services. Such a sanction may be perceived simply as a rise in the cost of this service, says the report.

Since criminal enforcement is fraught with problems, the committee recommended the scaled criminalization. Customers will be questioned the first time they are caught, with no criminal charges. The second time they will have to plead guilty and possibly pay a fine. A course of treatment may be imposed as well. Only on the third occasion will a criminal file be opened.