Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) is putting together a team to examine the possibility of turning the purchase of prostitution services into a criminal offense, Ha’aretz reported Sunday. The team will include representatives of the ministries of social services, finance, internal security and the interior. The minister’s decision follows requests by MK Shuli Mualem (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz) who met with Shaked two weeks ago. The goal of the new legislation will be to help rehabilitate sex workers.
According to the current Israeli law, prostitution per se is not criminal, but the law criminalizes driving persons into prostitution, using underage persons as prostitutes and publicizing prostitution services. The current law does not offer automatic support to prostitutes who wish to seek rehabilitation, such as emergency housing, a hotline, and day centers. The new law will likely offer a much more generous package that will include a guaranteed minimum income, employment services, a rent stipend, educational options and medical and psychological aid, as well as legal support and help in maintaining a connection with offspring.
There are no current official figures on prostitution in Israel, but the estimates of NGOs operating in the field stand at upwards of 13,000 sex workers, both male and female, which puts the number of customers at an estimated 300,000 (assuming each prostitutes sees between 5 and 6 customers daily), which is 12% to 15% of the population—a figure similar to other industrial countries. The overall income from prostitution is therefore estimated at around $300 million annually.
Both MKs Mualem and Galon argue that the effort to fight prostitution so far by focusing only on the traffickers and pimps has not made a dent in the prostitution industry in Israel, and that it must be complemented by enforcement that would deter consumption and reduce the workforce, through rehabilitation. They say their proposed new law would defeat prostitution itself, and not merely the byproducts of human trafficking, pimping, and violence against women. “That’s why the proposed law deals with the central economic driver, the consumers,” they explained. They believe what’s needed is legislation that would also change the perception of sex workers from mere objects to real human beings, and deposit customers with the responsibility for the effects their actions have on the women.”
A poll conducted in 2013 by the ministries of social services and internal security and published a month ago, discovered that 54% of Israelis believe there should be legislation against customers of prostitution, while 36% object. But only 43% agreed that customers should be punished as criminals. 23% believed the sex workers should be punished, and 38% (42% of males, 34% of females) said prostitution should not be against the law in Israel.