The five-year plan for helping women in prostitution that Labor Minister Haim Katz recently unveiled is exciting. No previous social affairs minister ever presented such a detailed plan (though this is not to make light of the contributions of Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon and former MK Orit Zuaretz, who sponsored a bill to criminalize prostitutes’ customers; or MKs Merav Michaeli, Shelly Yacimovich, Aliza Lavie and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, who are working on this issue in the current Knesset).
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Aside from imposing penalties on consumers of prostitution, the recommendations of the professional committee Katz set up on this issue include a comprehensive plan for rehabilitating prostitutes. Moreover, for the first time the plan covers not only female prostitutes, but also male and transgender prostitutes.
A study conducted by the Social Affairs Ministry [now part of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry] from 2012 to 2016 found that around 12,000 people work in prostitution in Israel. Of these, 85 percent are women, 10 percent are minors and 5 percent are men. Only 7 percent of the female prostitutes work out on the streets; 50 percent are in private apartments, 16.3 percent in massage parlors, 11 percent in escort services, while 9.8 percent are in strip clubs. Fully 62 percent of female prostitutes are mothers with children. Some 70 percent of the women cited economic distress as their main reason for engaging in prostitution.
The study also found that about 40 percent of all female prostitutes in treatment have been diagnosed with serious psychological problems. About 11 percent of female prostitutes are being treated by some government program meant to help them.
A comprehensive study conducted by Saleet – an organization that runs assistance programs for prostitutes on behalf of the social affairs ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality – came up with similar statistics.
Regrettably, there are still people who parrot the idiotic assertion that prostitution is a choice – including some in positions of power or in the media. In their view, a woman chooses to be raped merely because the rapist has money. Falling into the abyss of prostitution, they say, is a banal choice: Instead of attending university, a woman chooses to be confined in a private apartment, isolated and available to everyone.
Prostitution is an expression of distress, and helping the prostitute alone is not enough. Prostitution and violence are branches of the same tree, which must be dealt with at the root.
It’s a mistake to think the descent into prostitution begins on the day the woman first receives payment for having sex. The descent begins much earlier. Most women in prostitution were victims of sexual abuse, and if the authorities were sufficiently attentive they could do something about this. Women who fall into the abyss of prostitution are on the margins of society, with nowhere further to fall, and most do not succeed in rehabilitating themselves.
As for the rapists – who are forgivingly called “customers” or “clients” – they are the most effective abettors of the hell of prostitution. As part of Katz’s praiseworthy plan, it’s important to ensure that they are targeted. And it’s not enough to hit them in their pocketbooks; it’s necessary to hit their reputations and social prestige.
There’s no longer any point in a campaign of explanation and persuasion. Because anyone who is capable of raping a woman and pacifying his conscience with the fact he’s paying her is living in a complete disconnect between his own self-image and what he really is: a rapist.