The criminalization of the hiring of sex workers took effect in July 2020, 19 months after the Knesset passed the original bill. Roughly 14,000 people across the country were engaged in sex work before COVID-19 hit, of which 3,000 were minors, according to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. 76% would quit sex work if they could. The average life span of a prostitute in Israel is 46 years.
Efrat Rubinstein, the head of the Israel Stripper Union, commented on the decision-making processes behind the legislation, saying that “no representative of welfare or welfare organizations has the right to represent Israeli sex workers, and they are it grants the right to speak and make decisions for women who have not requested to be represented by them. “
Rubinstein also demanded that Israel’s strip clubs be reopened, saying their closings have created unsafe working environments for strippers and that the programs have offered them employment for minimum wage. This, he said, has created an impossible situation in which strippers must choose between unsafe working conditions or poverty.
“There is a profound failure in the effectiveness of the measures that have been taken [to help] us that should be examined, “said Rubinstein.” The minimum wage jobs that have been offered to us as an alternative [to stripping] they are not safer for women when they put us in financial trouble. “
The coronavirus pandemic and new legislation have created an impossible financial reality for women, said Naama Rivlin, director of Saleet, a treatment and aid center for women in prostitution. “We have seen a sharp increase in the reach of our hotline and many of the women need help just to get through the month. The law has created a situation where women are not recognized by the National Insurance Institute and are not eligible. for help. “
Some NIS 39 million were allocated to the Ministry of Social Welfare in 2021 for prostitution, according to the Ministry of Justice, which said this amount will be added to the budget base, meaning the funds are likely to be available in the next few years.
“Funds have been allocated, but budgets have not been used,” said MK Yasmin Sax Fridman. “I would like to hear the responses from government offices. None of the plans that were supposed to be implemented have been completed. 76% of women are interested in leaving [of prostitution] And it can’t be that we don’t give them an aid package and save a life. “
A representative from Elem – Youth in Distress, an organization that works with at-risk youth, commented on the plight of transgender sex workers who “cannot get help or treatment when it comes to prostitution.” Miri Moskovitz, director of treatment for prostitutes at the Ministry of Social Welfare, said that an additional center for transgender sex workers will be created, as well as a center that will deal with helping male sex workers.
When asked by the president of the committee, Aida Touma-Sliman, if the knowledge of the organizations in the field was being implemented in the actions taken by the ministry, Moskovitz said that “there is much more to do, and we have invited all the organizations and non-profit organizations. ” organizations to roundtables on a variety of topics. “
The committee concluded by saying that they would continue to work in 3 areas: monitoring the development of needs on the ground, law enforcement and special communities. “We must listen to all voices and needs,” Touma-Sliman said.
Samuel Thorpe, Hagay Hacohen, and the Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.