Spearheaded by Kadima Cabinet member Orit Zuaretz, a draft law was recently passed making the solicitation of a sexual act a criminal offense. First brought to the table in 2009, this law received its first green light on the path to becoming official.
Under this law, first time offenders will be sent to an educational program while second time offenders can be sentenced to up to six months for visiting prostitutes. This law follows the ‘Nordic model’, which was pioneered in Sweden and has since been adopted by many European countries.
Until now, prostitution has been legal in Israel; however, the de facto practice surrounding this issue is very complicated. The Hotline For Migrant Workers released a publication entitled The Legalization of Prostitution: Myth and Reality that was very helpful in my quest to understand the law on this matter.
Israel inherited from the British Mandate a model based on the partial criminalization of the sex industry. Prostitution and its consumption were not criminalized (with the exception of the clients of minor prostitutes), and criminalization was applied only to pimps and brothel managers.
In reality, several “tolerance zones” for prostitution exist around the country. In these regions, which are usually poor areas on the outskirts of major cities, the police turn a blind eye to the sex industry. In this way, both the legal and illegal sides of the business go unnoticed or intentionally ignored.
If this law is passed by the Knesset, the entire industry, which brings in an estimated revenue of NIS 2 billion a year, will be further pushed into the gutter of society. Though the law does not officially criminalize the act of selling oneself, it places the consumer outside of the law. Thus, the government’s direct target is not the prostitute but the clients. However, prostitutes will nonetheless be the ones most dramatically affected by the legislation.
Ever since I caught wind of the new law being put into motion in Israel concerning prostitution, my mind has been ablaze with questions. As someone who has not followed prostitution laws before, I have been sent adrift in a labyrinth of opinions since taking interest in the matter.
The more time I spend with this topic, the more nuanced it becomes for me. First of all, I ask myself: what is the goal of this law?
Is the goal to protect women? To stop them from being forced into compromising situations associated with sex work?
Is the aim to stop men from paying for sex and force them to find more creative solutions for their desires?
Do Zuaretz and her supporters believe that this law will bring about the end of prostitution in Israel? If so, does anyone think that is remotely possible?
I think the main point of contention regarding this issue is: does Israeli society believe that the act of paying for sexual acts is inherently wrong?
If the government deems prostitution unacceptable, their interest should be to eradicate the industry. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
This is a topic that wears many masks.
There is such a negative haze surrounding prostitution it’s hard to understand what we are trying to fight. Is it really the act of selling and buying sex or the inherent connection to abuse that is so repellant?
It is no secret that prostitutes are victims of brutal attacks by customers. Many of these women are addicted to drugs and have no other means of providing for themselves. One of the many statistics going around is that 40% of men who visit prostitutes are married. And here we have three distasteful side effects: extramarital relations, drug abuse and violence. However, these unfortunate issues are not at the heart of this debate, nor should they be. What should be discussed is if pushing prostitution into the margins will make it stop or just make it more rife with all things evil.
I don’t believe that working women of this country will be deterred by this law. Rather, they will be forced to find ways of surpassing it that will further compromise their safety.
If the goal is to protect the women operating within this world, making everything about their livelihood criminal only increases the chance that they will get involved in or become victims of other outlawed activities.
Who does this law actually serve? The people directly affected by it or the rest of the population who will sleep a bit easier knowing that the government is “dealing with this uncomfortable issue?”