Jessica started her workday one August afternoon, just like any other day. After the fourth client locked himself in his room. When they threw the door down, they discovered that he had hanged himself. He was 36 years old, he came from Eastern Europe and had spent five years prostituting. According to her companions, she suffered from depression and resorted to drugs to escape during the work. The owner of the place – a well-known brothel on Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Street – reopened the store a couple of hours later, as if nothing had happened. It was Thursday and there was business.
It happened three years ago and the death of this woman made visible what until then many refused to see. "Prostitution not only harms the soul, it also kills", says Nitzan Kahana, co-director of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons and Prostitution (TFHT), an anti-prostitution organization made up of 13 associations that also work in the protection of prostitution. women and the eradication of human trafficking. "For 13 years we have worked to eradicate it, we have found that the prostitution industry works like any other industry. If the John -name for consumers in guild jargon-wanted to buy and the pimps sell, there was no impediment, "says Kahana.
Finally, on December 31, the Parliament unanimously approved the Prohibition of Prostitution Law. Until that day, in Israel, getting sex in exchange for money was a permitted practice, as long as it was an agreement between two adults. Procuring and advertising of sexual services were already considered crimes before.
According to data from the National Survey of the Ministry of Social Affairs on the phenomenon of prostitution, some 16,000 people prostitute themselves in Israel. 14,000 of them, Israelis including 3,000 children. The age of onset is around 13-14 years and most come from a family environment in which they have suffered abuse, with what they see in prostitution a way to get benefit from a situation they already had. Three out of four say that, if they could, they would change their lives.
Unlike other countries, in the Hebrew state – which has become the tenth in the world to take that step – prostitution is barely visible outside the tourist city of Eilat, south of Tel Aviv, its financial district or around the clubs striptease – Constantly in the point of view of the authorities. "That is not seen, because in the Holy Land these things should not be seen, it does not mean that it does not exist," says Flavia Sevald, director of the Justice Institute of Jerusalem, an NGO of lawyers that promotes human rights and works closely with the shelters for victims of prostitution and the trafficking of human beings ..
Sevald criticizes that the problem is so invisible that, in Jerusalem, there is not even a center of attention for those who practice in the city. "With the new law this will change because funds have been provided to a plan that will be implemented by the ministries of Social Affairs, Health, Education and Security. No new institutions will be created, existing ones will be expanded to guarantee assistance to these people at all levels, "he explains.
The Hebrew Government follows the path of the Nordic countries – opened by Sweden, in 1999 – in which to combat prostitution is committed to consider victims to people who prostitute and to penalize customers. "We firmly believe that if the John's are reduced there will be fewer women engaged in prostitution. We needed rehabilitation programs to give them another way out, but also an educational process as a society, "explains Kahana proudly, who is also a lawyer and participated in drafting the text of the new legislation.
In the middle of next year, when it comes into force, those who are caught trying to get sex in exchange for money will be fined 2,000 Nis (about 500 euros). A penalty that may be reduced if you agree to enter a reeducation program to become aware of the damage suffered by those who sell your body; that will double if they are hunted for the second time and that it can reach 75,300 Nis (about 19,000 euros)
The Government has already approved the rehabilitation plan for those who prostituted themselves, endowed with some 22 million euros, in three years; double the annual budget managed so far. And its effects, according to experts, are already noticeable. "Since the parliamentary procedure began, we detected a decrease in consumers and an increase of more than 200% in the number of women interested in the new channels of help to get out of prostitution," says Kahana.
The lawyer – who is also the granddaughter of Rabbi Kahana, one of the Zionist parents who signed the Declaration of Independence of Israel in 1948 – says that the most difficult thing was to get the political elite to put the issue on their agenda and become aware of the importance to protect young people because much of the problem lies in the fact that the industry expands, with hardly any barriers, through cyberspace. "You do not have to go out to the street to look for prostitution, just enter the Internet. Measures against consumers are necessary, but the pimp must be persecuted by all means. There are prostitution websites with thousands of registered users, "says Kahana.
A fact that led to Idit Harel Shemesh, well-known activist against trafficking and sexual exploitation of women in Israel, to focus their efforts on social networks. Created on Facebook the John School of Israel, a virtual center – in the image of the existing John School in the Anglo-Saxon world – to reeducate consumers of prostitution. A website that, for Harel, has already fulfilled its function. "In two years we have treated dozens of men. We fill a void that the Government will now take care of. We closed the school with the satisfaction of having fulfilled our mission "says the founder of NGO Mitos, activist for decades for the abolition of sexual slavery.
All agree that the closure of the southern border of Israel in 2012 was decisive to end the arrival of African illegal immigrants to the country and the consequent fall in the number of women, especially Eritreas, engaged in prostitution. But there are other battle fronts: stop the arrival of women captured by the mafias in their countries of origin, especially the former Soviet Union, which land as tourists, and unmask the real business behind the facade of many clubs. striptease – a land in which the pursuit of the business by tax evasion, is giving very good results. "I do not care about why they go to jail. The important thing is that they end up in prison, "says Kahana.