Opinion

The Hellish Suffering of Prostitution Is No Solution for Poverty

Vered Lee
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A brothel in South Tel Aviv, February 3, 2018.Credit: Meged Gozani
Vered Lee

The law banning the patronizing of prostitutes, which went into effect last week, places Israel in the forefront of the fight to eliminate prostitution, along with countries such as Sweden, France, Canada, Iceland and Norway. For the first time the government is changing its attitude towards the phenomenon, and recognizing that those who are trapped in the hell of prostitution must be considered victims in the eyes of the law, and that a customer of prostitution is a criminal who should be punished and be offered treatment.

The law, which was presented here in a populist and discriminatory manner by Carolina Landsmann ("Starvation vs. Prostitution") shatters an ancient power equation, in which a customer of prostitution is considered a “normal” person by the public and the law, whereas the women (and men) practicing prostitution are seen as criminals and seducers, with social disgrace added to the high price they pay.

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It’s important to mention that as opposed to the claim by Landsmann – who expressed anxiety at the thought that poor men and women will be robbed of the right to become mired in prostitution, which, as she puts it “is sometimes the only way to survive without harming others” – the law does not force the men and women involved in prostitution to stop engaging in it. It recognizes the tremendous difficulty of extricating oneself from that world, and protects them by not criminalizing them.

On the other hand, it imposes fines and social disgrace on customers of prostitution while enabling them to get therapy. Since it is now clear that men and women engaged in prostitution are grievously harmed and are exposed to health and emotional risk, the law includes, for the first time in Israel, specific solutions for transgender people, mothers, men, and patrons of prostitution as well.

Landsmann disdainfully described the connection between politicians Zehava Galon and Shuli Mualem as a product of “religious moralizing and socialist progressivism.” The truth is that it is Landsmann who is trapped in conservative and purist definitions. Instituting the revolutionary law required the understanding that on social issues such as protecting the victims of prostitution, there is need for solidarity that crosses political camps. However, the real leaders of the law are the survivors of prostitution, who for over a decade have been participating in a fight against it and tell their story to protect the next generation and all the women in society.

File photo: A sex worker sits outside in Tel Aviv, 2017.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Landsmann claims that prostitution is a possible solution for poor men and women. But the government cannot abandon poor people to pimps and customers of prostitution and close its eyes to their exploitation. Defining prostitution as a choice has for years allowed the government to avoid responsibility for those trapped in the cycle of prostitution. It is regrettable that Landsmann embraces this viewpoint, which serves only the pimps.

Prostitution is not a choice but a lack of choice. What choice was there for M., a prisoner who was pimped by a family member when he was six years old, in Jerusalem parks and in the apartments of pedophiles? What choice was left to Chile Ezra, who was trafficked to Israel, became a drug addict and for years was a homeless woman trapped in prostitution in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station?

Police crackdown on solicitation in south Tel Aviv, March 22, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

What choice for G., a transgender woman who was sexually assaulted and thrown into the street at a young age by her family? Landsmann proposes the institutionalization of prostitution as a worthy model. In Israel quiet institutionalization was practiced for many years, leading to an increase in the number of those trapped in prostitution and to a deterioration in their situation. This model is seen today as benefiting customers of prostitution and as a reason for the uptick in trafficking in women. After adopting legalizing prostitution in 2000, Germany lost ground in the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report due to the increased trafficking in women there.

An image is etched in my heart. When I asked a prostitute what she feels towards the customers of prostitution, she sunk her teeth into her arm to stifle a scream, and her eyes were filled with tears. I hope this important law prevents hellish suffering, and lessens the disgraceful solution Landsmann suggests to the poor.

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