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Women in Israel: The Trafficking in Women

by M. Bengel Parliamentary Assistant to MK Z. Galon

Throughout the world each year, large numbers of men, women and children are taken from one country to another and are forced to work illegally, for the purpose of monetary gain. This modern slave trade includes a large percentage of women and young girls who are kidnapped and forced into prostitution.

The true extent of this worldwide violation of basic human rights is not known, but it appears to be increasing each year. According to one estimate, some 2500-3000 women have been "imported" into Israel and are compelled to become prostitutes. The trade is worth millions of dollars annually to the operators, who are organized groups of criminals. Their victims come mainly from Eastern Europe, but also from South America and Africa. It is difficult to assess the real size of the phenomenon, because of its secretive nature.

The illegal trafficking in women includes sexual abuse, smuggling, incarceration, violence, and extortion. The women are recruited through advertisements in the local papers, or through direct contact with the "traders" or their representatives in entertainment spots or their homes. It is known that traders are at times even aided by friends or family members of the victims. In some cases, the women travel with fake documents and are contacted, on arrival in Israel, by either the trafficker or his representative.

The main routes for smuggling women are along the border with Egypt, which is not hermetically sealed. Another route is via Ben-Gurion Airport, but supervision there is extremely tight and advanced techniques for detecting false documents are in use.

When the smuggling of women into Israel was first discovered, the offenses were treated as prostitution, a crime that existed in the penal code, and law enforcement agencies were required to combat the phenomenon accordingly. But the extent of the problem made it necessary to amend the existing penal code (July 2000) as follows:

  1. The buyer or seller of a person with intent of prostitution, or the broker of such a sale, will be sentenced to 16 years imprisonment.
  2. A person who causes another person to leave the country in which he/she lives for the purpose of prostitution, will be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

This amendment enables the offense of smuggling women for prostitution to be dealt with efficiently and expeditiously. It also accords these innocent victims the dignity of human beings and not inanimate objects, and expresses society's abhorrence by providing severe punishment for those involved in the trade.

Testimony of the victims is required in order to bring the criminals to justice; but, since the women reside illegally in Israel, they themselves are regarded as criminals. Women who are unwilling to testify against the traffickers are detained until deportation. The State Prosecution endeavors to hasten the hearing of testimonies of women who are prepared to testify against the traders, and of late the courts have ruled that alternative accommodation to detention facilities should be found for them.

The State of Israel is aware of the situation and is attempting to control it; the law enforcement agencies have given the matter top priority.

The Knesset (Israel's Parliament) decided on 13 June 2000, to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission on Trafficking in Women. One of the reasons for the creation of the committee was the assumption that state authorities had not been addressing the issue sufficiently, neither in legislation and enforcement of existing laws, nor in making full use of their resources against the traders and mediators. In many cases the State had punished the women instead.

It is the committee's aim to draw the attention of the authorities and the public to the scope of the trade in women. The committee gathers data concerning the conditions in which the women are kept, the conditions of their detentions and their legal situation and advises law enforcement agencies and the rehabilitating organizations. However, the committee does not have legal authority to subpoena witnesses and its recommendations are not binding.

It was decided that the committee would cooperate with sources and organizations from outside the parliamentary realm and professionals dealing with documentation and reports on the subject. The committee visits relevant locations, hears witnesses' testimonies, gathers expert opinions and all written documentation, which is necessary to produce recommendations on the subject. The parliamentary inquiry committee is comprised of representatives from the entire political spectrum, chaired by M.K. Zahava Galon.

The committee has held meetings with laywers representing escort agencies and with diplomatic representatives of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Among the topics covered in its reports have been: a statement from the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the trade in women; an account of the treatment of the women by the state advocacy; reports from relevant non-parliamentary organizations; an examination of the possibility that the women involved in the trafficking will be represented by the public defender's office and not by lawyers hired by the traders; an examination of the physical and mental health needs of the victims; and accounts of police handling of the issue of human trade. The committee has also drafted a law suggesting minimum terms of punishment for offenders in the trafficking in women.

The committee enjoys the cooperation of the relevant government offices, non-governmental organizations and the police force. According to the mandate received from the Knesset, the committee will publish a full report on its conclusions and recommendations.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry