The Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution, headed by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), discussed on Tuesday the scope of prostitution in Israel and its characteristics. During the meeting, the findings of a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs, in cooperation with the Public Security Ministry, were presented to the subcommittee. The survey found that in 2014 there were between 11,420 and 12,730 prostitutes in Israel, 95 percent of them female. According to the study, as many as 1,260 minors were employed as prostitutes or at risk of prostitution in 2014.

The survey, conducted among a sample of some 600 female sex workers, revealed economic hardship as the primary reason women said they were working as prostitutes. Sixty-six percent of the women interviewed said they started working as prostitutes to pay off debts, while 10 percent said they had no other profession and no other way of supporting their children. More than 70 percent said that working as prostitutes had failed to solve their financial problems and therefore they could not stop. Sixty-two percent of female prostitutes are mothers, the study found. Fifty-two percent of the women interviewed were natives of the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, and 20 percent of them have academic degrees.

Findings of prostitution survey presented to Knesset subcommittee; MK Lavie calls to fight phenomenon ”with all the means at our disposal”

(MK Aliza Lavie – Photo: Itzik Harari)

According to MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Camp), the scope of prostitution in Israel is much greater than what the survey indicates. ”In certain places, [procuring the services of a prostitute] is still regarded as an act of consumerism, and there is no bigger lie than this. It is a violent and aggressive act,” she said, while calling for legislation than outlaws the consumption of prostitution.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi), who is among the initiators of a bill to ban the procurement of prostitution services, said the legislation constitutes a ”clear moral statement that no one chooses prostitution.”

Naama Zeevi Rivlin, director of Saleet, a Tel-Aviv shelter for prostituted women, referred to the data showing that street prostitution comprises only seven percent of the entire phenomenon, while 50.5 percent of prostitution in Israel takes place in apartments. The rest takes place in strip clubs, brothels, massage parlors and the like. ”Most of the prostitution in Israel takes place in discreet apartments,” she told the subcommittee. ”We go into these apartments and talk to the women about the possibility of rehabilitation, but it is nearly impossible to conduct an emotional discussion with women who are doing client-after-client shifts. Many of them are completely detached. Prostitution is a kind of death trap. Most enter with debts and come out with even greater debts.”

MK Lavie called to promote legislation aimed at curbing prostitution in Israel, but said legislation ”is not everything.” Women who work as prostitutes, she said, ”need a hug from the establishment and from society. They need a sympathetic ear, and of course systems that will assist them in the rehabilitation process and in their integration into society.”

”We must continue to work with all the means at our disposal and fight the phenomenon, while cooperating with the organizations on the ground,” she said. ”Soon we will convene a meeting with the participation of all the relevant ministries in order to discuss action plans to deal with the phenomenon. We have a multi-year mission. He who saves just one life, it is as if he has saved the entire world.”