The Subcommittee on Combating Trafficking in Women and Prostitution, headed by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), discussed on Wednesday the findings of the US State Department`s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, which placed Israel in the top category for battling human trafficking for the fifth year in a row.

The meeting took place with the participation of Norwegian Ambassador to Israel Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Marc Nordberg of the US Embassy, Alma Jani of the International Organization for Migration, and a delegation from Albania, headed by Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Elona Gjebrea.

Norwegian ambassador to Knesset subcommittee: We lowered prostitution by 25% by making it illegal to pay for sex

Lavie said Israel`s placement in the top tier of countries that combat human trafficking shows that ”The US government recognized our continuing success in fighting human trafficking… But that does not mean we can stop fighting. We`ve created cooperation between enforcement and treatment elements and information which flows from the ground in real time, and we must continue doing so until the major problem of human trafficking passes from the world.”

Click here for the State Department report

The Norwegian ambassador described his country’s policies on the matter and said that in 2009, Norway made it illegal to pay for sex, and since then, there has been a 25 percent decrease in prostitution. There is a constant public debate on the matter, and sex workers are concerned that they will be considered criminal, Hanssen- Bauer added.

Daniel Marks, of the Justice Ministry’s International Department, said the State Department said Israel has many positive policies, but pointed to two negatives.

On the positive side was the number of investigations and indictments, and the amount of protection for victims, including shelters and aid programs, as well as the Knesset subcommittee’s activities, and other factors.

However, the US report said that Israeli courts do not give serious enough punishments for trafficking crimes and that immigrants who are victims of human trafficking are often not recognized as such and sent to prison.

State Attorney’s Office representative Rachel Zuarets-Levy said, ”Trafficking patterns today are softer than in the past. Violence dropped, women’s passports are not taken from them anymore, and they know why they’re coming to Israel. They also receive half of the fee for sexual services, unlike in the past.”

Because of these changed factors, the courts give lighter punishments, she added.

MK Lavie summed up the meeting by saying that she had recently met a rehabilitated woman ”who asked me for one thing only – to draft a law against pimps, who are trained to find weaknesses in women, like hunted animals, and deteriorate them. Unfortunately, there is no law against prostitution yet, but we will continue to fight to advance the client incrimination bill.”

”Even though we almost eradicated human trafficking, it is no secret that the prostitution rate is raising, even though, according to research, 75% of prostitutes want to stop,” the subcommittee`s chairwoman said. ”It’s also known that 95% of women dealing in prostitution were victims of sexual abuse, and this is why it is the state`s duty to help them [leave prostitution].”

”These women are victims of society, and society must give them back their dignity and allow them to continue to live,” Lavie stated.