The Flesh Trade: Around the World and in Israel

Several articles in this issue focus on the trafficking in women, its global dimensions, and what some organizations and governments are doing about it.

Based on a report prepared by Martina Vandenberg with the help of Noga Applebaum for the Israel Women’s Network, Noga’s Mira Ariel writes about the flesh trade in Israel:

About one quarter of the prostitutes in Israel are imported. An estimated 1,000 women arrive in Israel for this purpose each year, and 70% of the prostitutes in Tel Aviv come from the former Soviet Union. Other countries of origin include the Baltic States, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic.

Most of them are in their 20s, a few are minors. The vast majority are not aware in advance of the prison-like work conditions: the numbers of clients they must service, the unending hours of work, sleep deprivation, the little if any pay, the poor living conditions, and complete lack of freedom of movement.

There are reliable testimonies that these women are held in brothels against their will. Some are beaten and raped by gangs specializing in robbing them of their self esteem until they believe that prostitution is their only way out. Some are drugged for this purpose. A few “disobedient” women have been murdered.

Their illegal status in Israel gives these women no rights to police protection. They live under threats by organized crime rings. They don’t speak Hebrew. They are far from their families. They are charged huge sums for tickets to Israel and falsified documents which are held by their procurers, then they are fined for “infractions” such as staying too long with a client or attempting to run away. The constant accumulation of debts makes their slavery unending.

Experts say the police are well aware of the situation and have an unwritten agreement to protect the pimps in exchange for information about criminal activity not connected to prostitution (“and doubtless thought to be more severe than the violent enslavement of women”). According to the Russian Consulate in Israel, the pimps are the ones who call the police to come arrest their prostitutes and thereby they escape paying the women the money they owe them at the end of their “contract.”

It is likely that trade in forced prostitution in Israel comes to about half a billion dollars a year. A prostitute earns her pimp about $50,000 to $100,000 a year, but will see only 10-20 shekels per client, if anything.

This problem in Israel has caused a stereotype of “young woman from the former Soviet Union equals prostitute” which has negative effects on hundreds of thousands of new immigrants.