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Jerusalem Post - December 10, 1998 (21 Kislev 5759)
RAMAT GAN (December 10) - Women are entitled to decide what to do with their own bodies, human-rights activists and the men operating a Ramat Gan brothel both agreed yesterday afternoon. However, their different interpretations of this led to numerous shouting matches during a demonstration by the Israel Women's Network and Meretz outside the city's Tropicana Club to mark International Human Rights Day.
Tropicana owner Jackie Yazdi, who has been charged with raping two of his employees, has appeared on ABC's Prime Time to brag about buying Eastern European women for $10,000-$20,000 and forcing them to work as prostitutes, said Rachel Benziman of the Israel Women's Network.
Protesters said many of the prostitutes at the Tropicana and other clubs had been tricked into coming here from Eastern Europe by promises of well-paying jobs. When they arrive here, brothel owners take their passports and force them to work as prostitutes in return for minimal pay.
"I've seen the girls. They look half dead. They're afraid to speak," sociologist Esther Elam said.
Rahamim, who works at the Tropicana and refused to give his last name, emphatically denied this and brought out an Israeli prostitute to back up his claims. The woman, wearing sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt that covered most of her face, and cut-off jeans, told the protesters that she and the other women working at the Tropicana chose to work there and are well-paid, as she clung to Rahamim. He took her inside and then came back out with a sign reading: "Wanted: Pretty girls to work."
Benziman pointed out that the woman he brought out is a native Israeli and claimed what she said does not apply to foreign prostitutes.
The group of about 20 protesters attracted a large crowd of men who work in the area, blocking traffic in front of the Tropicana.
"See all the publicity you're giving them," one of the men shouted at the protesters. "They're going to have tons of customers tonight. Just think of all the little girls they'll bring in for them."
"Lots of religious men from Jerusalem enter our place. They look really embarrassed. Some ask me to close the establishment for an hour - and 20 of them turn up in a group."
Thus a pimp gave evidence yesterday to a special parliamentary committee on sex trafficking. The session was devoted to pimps.
Jackie Yazdi, owner of a brothel that flourished before being shut down by authorities last year, alluded to a wide variety of clients. These included husbands who come to perform types of sex acts which they are unable to pursue at home, soldiers who lack girlfriends, foreign workers, Palestinians from the territories and more.
Accurate records of men who resort to sex-for-pay are hard to come by. In Israel, some estimate that there are one million visits a month to massage parlors. That figure, which will be presented today to the parliamentary committee which is headed by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), is based on the following calculations: police estimate that 3,000 women have been brought to Israel as sex workers. They work 30 days a month and have at least ten clients a day. These figures do not include Israeli women who work as prostitutes; there is less information about the number of clients they have per day.
The brunt of public discussion about sex trafficking focuses on the sex workers and pimps, and not on their clients. In a position paper to be submitted to the parliamentary committee today, attorney Naomi Levenkron argues that the lack of information about clients derives from a number of reasons - the sex industry depends upon client anonymity, and cultural norms regard sex purchasers as "real men" who should be given some leeway. In contrast, the pimps and sex workers who prostitute themselves are treated as the real guilty parties; that the industry would not exist were it not for the male clients is conveniently over-looked. Levenkron has led the campaign in Israel against sex trafficking for several years. Based on testimony she has culled from its victims, Levenkron concludes that the majority of their clients are Israelis. Some are regular customers. A police raid of a massage parlor in Tel Aviv two months ago uncovered discount tickets; regular customers receive a free visit after 12 paid visits to the brothel.
The draft paper submitted by Levenkron, with the help of student workers from the institute she heads that battles sex trafficking (the paper's arguments will be amplified and published in July), argues for a revolutionary and controversial approach: Criminal prosecution of the clients. Today, Sweden stands alone for its laws which punish persons who purchase sex; they face prison terms of six months. The research carried out by Levenkron's group indicates that most states in the U.S. ban prostitution, yet tend to prosecute sex workers more vigorously than male clients.
In Israel, laws ban pimping, and also maintaining facilities for use in prostitution. But the prostitute and the male who purchases sex from her do not face criminal prosecution.
In cases in which it can be proven that there were signs the sex worker was held in a brothel against her will, and the client ignored this fact, the paper submitted by Levenkron's group recommends that the male by prosecuted for rape.
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