Israel – From Locked Apartments to the Public Space – The Phenomenon of Trafficking in Women in the Past & Now
Date: December 29, 2016
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Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center
From Locked Apartments to the Public Space – The Phenomenon of Trafficking in Women in the Past and Now
Dr. Inbal Wilamovski | November 2016
Translation into English: Khulud Khamis
Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center is a feminist collective founded in 1983. We are a community of women who act together to promote understanding and partnership between women in Israel, regardless of religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual preference, and socio-economic status. Isha L’Isha’s mission is to advance the status and rights of women and girls, and to promote peace, security, and socio-economic justice from a feminist perspective through education, research, dissemination of knowledge, and public events.
Since 1997, Isha L’Isha has been part of a coalition of organizations working against trafficking in women in Israel, and since 2002, we have operated the Fighting against Trafficking in Women Project. The project works on several levels: direct assistance to women, public awareness raising activities, building coalitions, and advocating policy change. Throughout the years, we assisted more than 1,600 women who had been trafficked and exploited for purposes of the sex industry. The strong connections we established with these women led us to question the place of trafficked women in the public consciousness and the social responsibility over this phenomenon. In the last number of years, the project has expanded to include fighting prostitution, as it is reflected in the exploitation of local women. The basis of our work does not focus only on providing assistance to the women in a time of need, but is also concerned with the women’s future, assisting them to leave the cycle of prostitution, and ensuring their rights and safety in the process.
From the early 1990s up to the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, Israel had been one of the main destination countries for trafficking in women from the FSU (Former Soviet Union). In 2007, a drastic drop was registered in the phenomenon, and in 2012, Israel received the highest rating in the US Department of State Trafficking In Persons report (TIP), which monitors trafficking in countries around the world. The aim of this report is to present a review of the public struggle against trafficking in women during the first decade of the 21st century, and to delineate its successes and implications. In light of the claims about decline in the phenomenon and in light of the accumulated field experience, this report also aims is to establish a new conceptual framework for examining the current situation in order to continue uncovering the social blind spots in regards to violence and exploitation of women as “sexual commodities.” We can say that the specific struggle against trafficking in women during the first decade of the 21st century achieved certain success due to cooperation between human rights organizations and the state. The State of Israel reached the highest rating in the US Department of State TIP report, and the claim that there is no trafficking in women in Israel is repeated by official bodies and receives legitimacy in light of the situation. Today, it seems that the horrifying phenomena of trafficking in women, which we witnessed in the past, are non-existent. However, we cannot turn a blind eye and ignore the new modes of trafficking and their close connection to local prostitution. Thus, the new modes of trafficking are reviewed here, such as expansion of the local prostitution industry, bringing women into Israel on tourism visas or through marriage, and the exploitation of foreign women and refugees. It seems that as a result of the decrease in trafficking as it was known, the local prostitution scene expanded, and Israeli women entered it, including immigrants from the FSU, Arab women, transgender women, minors, men, and others. In addition, two phenomena requiring attention are women who enter Israel on a tourist visa for short periods of time, and women who are imported into Israel as brides and may often fall victims to sexual exploitation and violence. Another phenomenon is women who have stayed in Israel many years after initially being trafficked, and women asylum seekers who were raped and abused in the torture camps in Sinai, some of whom are forced to pay their ransom money and survive through prostitution. In all these cases, the women are invisible and not recognized as women without citizenship status; therefore, they are vulnerable and exposed to threats on their lives as well as to sexual exploitation in the sense of trafficking. Thus, we should continue working to reduce prostitution, being aware of the situation of women in prostitution, attentive to their needs, and respecting their wishes regarding their lives. Cooperation between civil society organizations and governmental bodies, such as the Ministry of Justice, police and the state attorney’s office should continue in order to fight prostitution, while at the same time providing optimal assistance to women, and understanding the complexity of the scene and its various factors. Additional bodies should join the struggle, such as the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Interior, Airports Authority, and others. Other hidden factors should be pointed at, such as the pimps and their economic motives from trafficking and prostitution, as well as sex consumers, who do not receive any attention as those who are the driving force of the industry by exploiting the situation of women. Additional new scenes where trafficking for prostitution services occurs and is legitimized should be paid attention to, such as the virtual scene and the various spaces where prostitution occurs de facto (brothels, strip clubs, discrete apartments, massage places, and the street).