Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem, including areas inhabited by Jews, according to a report released Wednesday. The Palestinian organization SAWA (All Women Together Today and Tomorrow) published the paper, the first of its kind, urging Palestinian society to break its silence over its sex industry.
The report was compiled with support by UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, which allotted resources for research on the subject. SAWA conducted research and interviews for the study in the beginning of 2008, but for a variety of reasons has only now been published. The report, which is titled "Trafficking and Forced Prostitution of Palestinian Women and Girls: Forms of Modern Day Slavery," was released in conjunction with the ?Global 16-day Campaign to Combat Violence Against Women."
The report claims that women are trafficked from different areas of the West Bank, in particular urban areas, as well as from the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. Women from Eastern Europe who are sold into the sex trade in Israel are also occasionally brought to the West Bank, where they work in designated apartments. There are a number of legally registered hotels and cleaning companies that offer "double services," which include sexual services for men.
Researchers only spoke with a small number of people for the study, among them several women, cab drivers, lawyers, hotel owners, and Palestinian police investigators, and came away with the impression that trafficking in the Palestinian territories is not run by a sophisticated network. Researchers also spoke with Palestinian women pimps in their 40s and 50s, who themselves are former prostitutes. One of these pimps had a Jerusalem identity card and owned four apartments. She allowed the women working for her to go out freely, but used intimidation to ensure that they would return. She also supplied them with customers from cities inside Israel.
The report notes that like in other places around the world, women are forced into prostitution due to economic hardship, the Palestinian cases brought to their attention mainly stemmed from incidents of sexual violence, and occasionally forced marriage at a young age. Some of the women mentioned in the report are students at institutions of higher education in the West Bank, and some are high school students. In a number of cases that came to the authors' attention via the press, fathers sold their daughters through "back door" marriages, in which an announcement of marriage is made without the involvement of a religious official. When one girl is seen to be married repeatedly in the same way, it is clear that it is a cover for sex trafficking.
While the authors of the report stress that the prostitutes' clients range from "rich businessmen to young people," they do not give any further details as to their identities and backgrounds.
The report urges the Palestinian authorities and Palestinian society to acknowledge the existence of the problem. It calls on Palestinian non-governmental organizations to propose a bill that would treat prostitution as sexual violence and to work for the enactment of this law. The report also encourages the rejection of the stance that prostitution is a "choice;" and proposes the training of law enforcement authorities to treat the women with respect and fairness. The report also calls for the creation of shelters, as well as more support for existing shelters, where women forced into prostitution can find refuge.
Sawa was founded in 1998, and provides services, including an emergency hotline for women and children. It provides teaching and training in schools and with the police on the issue of violence against women.
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