Editorial

Criminalize Clients, Rehabilitate the Victims of Prostitution

The time has come for Israel, where the prostitution industry is flourishing, to join other countries which have adopted a revolutionary approach to prostitution.

FILE PHOTO: A woman in a brothel
FILE PHOTO: A woman in a brothel OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP

A decade after the first bill to criminalize paying for sex was formulated and presented to the Knesset by MK Zehava Galon (Meretz), it was presented once again last week with a co-sponsor from the other end of the political spectrum, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi).

A new version of the bill, which is expected to become law this year (Sharon Pulwer and Lee Yaron, March 10), was presented in a form that adds an important element – assistance and rehabilitation for the men, women and transgender people trapped in prostitution. The new law now has unprecedented broad support from many lawmakers and government ministries (social affairs and public security); a position paper by the police also favors criminalizing clients of prostitution. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has formed an inter-ministerial committee to examine a model that would prohibit payment for sex and rehabilitate victims. The committee is to publish its recommendations in May.

Indeed, the time has come for Israel, where the prostitution industry is flourishing, to join countries like Sweden, Norway, Canada and more recently France and Ireland, which have adopted a revolutionary approach to prostitution. This approach criminalizes consumers of paid sex and places responsibility and public shame on the clients for generating the demand for prostitution and harming its victims, sometimes even more than pimps and human traffickers. In Sweden, where the law went into effect in 1999, it has been proven that restricting demand has curbed the extent of prostitution and human trafficking and led to a significant change in the attitudes of the public toward it.

But legislation alone is not enough. Women, transgender people and men in prostitution have been abandoned by the authorities over the years and are invisible to them. To extricate them and allow them to once again become part of society, the victims of prostitution must be offered suitable and respectable rehabilitation. In addition, essential assistance, currently lacking, must be offered, such as hostels for women in prostitution and their children, and rehabilitation specifically for transgender people in prostitution and men in prostitution, especially those over the age of 26.

Applying the new law will require greater education of the public about the damage prostitution does. The law must also expand training in the issue for police, prosecutors and the courts.

The police were able to root out human trafficking by establishing, among other means, a special unit to deal with it. The day the law is passed banning payment for sex, the police must respond the way they did with human trafficking: by cooperating in the field with welfare agencies and NGOs, changing its tolerant attitude toward payment for sex, and acting to protect the human dignity of the victims of prostitution.