An amendment to the penal code to require a four- year mandatory sentence for trafficking.
A proposal to allow the government to confiscate the traffickers' profits and property.
A witness protection bill to encourage victims to testify.
The establishment of a special government task force to lead the charge.
Friday, June 21, 2002
Blue-and-white slave trade
by Shula Kopf
The Jerusalem Post - June 21, 2002
Rape, beatings and humiliation are daily reality for the thousands of women being sold into prostitution here. Three boxes at end of text.
The girls are young, beautiful and desperate. Their stories are heartbreaking.Listen to Marina, 19, from Moldavia."The day after I arrived in Israel, men began arriving in the apartment. They wore a lot of gold jewelry, they all had cellular phones and they smoked a lot. They were fat and scary. They looked like criminals to me. We had to get undressed and turn around for their inspection. They looked us over to see if we had scars or stretch marks. I felt like the African people who were sold as slaves 200 years ago. I felt like an animal."
There are self-inflicted slash marks on Marina's forearms. The 19-year-old cut herself with a knife in agitated moments of self-loathing during her seven-month stint as a Tel Aviv call girl.
Tanya, 20, from Russia:
"The first day they explained the rules to me. I must smile all the time and I must sit upright on the sofa in the reception room. I must not laugh or talk with the other girls. In the lobby the owner could see everything that was going on through cameras. But he was a good owner. He never beat me."
In the last 10 years, nearly 10,000 women have been smuggled into Israel and sold to brothels, grist for the mill of the lucrative sex trade estimated to make $ 450 million profit a year. Trafficking in people is the fastest growing area of international organized crime, preying on women and children made vulnerable by poverty and despair. According to a CIA report, one to two million people are trafficked each year worldwide, 50,000 into the US. The average age of entry into prostitution is 14. Most are recruited or forced.
The profits are staggering and trafficking is now considered the third largest source of profits for organized crime, behind drugs and guns, generating billions of dollars annually. Generally the flow is from Third World countries to the industrialized nations.
"It comes down to the point that men with money can buy the bodies of weak, poverty-stricken, desperate women," says Nissan Ben-Ami of the Awareness Institute, a non- profit Israeli organization which fights trafficking. "Society enables men to purchase sex just like one buys a loaf of bread."
Until recently, Israel has been a comfortable place for traffickers to do business. According to police, a brothel owner can profit anywhere from $ 50,000-$ 100,000 a year per woman, and he may have from 10 to 30 working for him. The women generally get only NIS 20 per customer, after they pay off their "debt" to the pimp.
In the last two years, Israel took the brunt of a scathing Amnesty International report and was placed on a US State Department's black list, a double punch which inaugurated the fight against trafficking.
"The issue of trafficking became politically correct," says Nomi Levenkron, attorney for the Hotline for Migrant Workers.
Just this month, due to its increased efforts, Israel was taken off the US State Department's list of worst offenders.
"Very little has changed in reality," says Levenkron. "The government's response continues to be the deportation of the women. There is no safe house for victims who want to escape their pimps. The court sentences are too lenient and there are too many plea bargaining deals."
Nonchalant politicians and an apathetic public ignore the cries of alarm about modern-day slavery raised by activists such as Levenkron.
"Israel started a bit late with this battle but is taking big steps in the right direction," says activist Leah Gruenpeter Gold of the Awareness Institute, which, together with the migrant workers' hotline, publishes an annual report it submits to the UN. "When the phenomenon began about a decade ago, with the last wave of Russian immigration, Israel wasn't ready. It all came as a surprise."
In fact, until two years ago there was no reference to trafficking in the penal code. Labor MK Yael Dayan sponsored an amendment in July 2000 which set a maximum 16- year sentence for the selling or buying of people.
At about the same time, the Amnesty report provided the impetus for the creation of a parliamentary inquiry committee headed by Zehava Gal-On of Meretz.
Gal-On's committee gained a shot in the arm eight months later when the US State Department released its report listing Israel among 23 nations which do not take the minimum measures to halt the trafficking of people across their borders. Israel's peers on this blacklist were Gabon, Sudan, Qatar and Bahrein, not exactly the company Israel aspires to keep. In addition, the report threatened to cut off US aid to countries that do not take steps to improve.
'It amazed us that the state was punishing the women by arresting and deporting them for illegal stay in Israel and letting the pimps go," says Gal-On.
In 2000, nearly 400 Eastern European prostitutes were arrested in police raids on brothels, jailed in Neve Tirzah women's prison, and then deported.
"The government likes to fold them, pack them and ship them," says Levenkron.
To date, Gal-On's committee has held 21 meetings, heard testimonies from numerous expert witnesses and proposed 10 changes to the law, of which six have received wide support from all parties.
"The trafficking of women is modern slavery and I am not willing to have it take place in Israel," says Gal-On. "Some people say that these women knew they were going to work in prostitution before they came here. That is irrelevant. They are victims whose basic human rights have been violated. They certainly didn't imagine the conditions they would meet here: the rapes, the violence, the humiliation and their sale from pimp to pimp."
Olga, 19, from Russia:
"We were never allowed out. The door was thick and there were bars on the windows. We were always guarded. Sasha would accompany us to the client's hotel and returned us immediately to the brothel. I knew I was coming here to work in prostitution, but I didn't know that prostitution means being closed up in a jail where 30 clients a day visit me without me being asked if I am willing or not. I didn't know I would have to work hours that never end and that I would always have to be ready, because maybe a client wants me at 10 in the morning when I went to sleep only at seven."
Gal-On, who heard testimony from young girls like Olga, has declared an all-out war against trafficking with several weapons in her arsenal:
"Until now Israel has been an easy and comfortable place for the pimps," says Gal-On. "We have to get the pimps where it hurts - in their pocketbooks - to confiscate all their ill-gotten profits, as is done in drug cases. We're talking about an industry that according to some estimates, makes $ 450 million to $ 1 billion profit a year. They must be made to understand that they can't sell women's bodies and get away with it."
But get away with it they have."Of all the cases we have investigated, made arrests and handed over to the prosecution, never once have we been called upon to testify," says Pini Aviram, superintendent in the Tel Aviv police and co-head of a special investigating team of Russian-speaking officers. The cases rarely come to trial, and end in plea bargains.
"The deals are ludicrous," says the burly police officer, his voice edged with anger. "If we get them on three counts of trafficking, that is only the tip of the iceberg. And for that they get 18 months when the maximum sentence is 16 years on each charge. It infuriates me. I think that anything less than 10 years is a light sentence for these people. This is a plague that must be rooted out."
Aviram says, with no small measure of cynicism, that he has arrested second-time offenders who were back in business after completing their short jail term. However, he feels encouraged by a recent ruling by a Tel Aviv District Court judge who refused to approve a plea bargain and, instead, sentenced the pimp to three years in jail, two years probation and a NIS 10,000 fine.
According to Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, over the last year 42 traffickers have been charged and 28 have been convicted with sentences ranging from two to 12 years.
"We must root out this contemptible and ugly phenomenon not just because of the Amnesty report, but because we are the State of Israel and something like this should not be allowed to exist here," Sheetrit said at a recent Knesset hearing.
His office has given prosecutors new instructions to hold traffickers in jail until their trial is over and to ask the court for financial compensation for the victims.
"If the pimp sits in jail for four years but his millions wait for him when he gets out, that is not enough of a deterrent," says Eli Kaplan, co-head of the special Tel Aviv police unit. "We need to get them where it hurts, in their pockets, and confiscate all their money and use it to benefit some of these girls, so that they don't go back to Moldavia to pick potatoes and freeze in the winter. If they can get some compensation, it will encourage them to testify."
About 60 percent of all arrests in the country come from the Tel Aviv unit, including the well-publicized recent arrest of Mark Gaiman who, according to police, ran a chain of brothels and a well-oiled network for recruiting and smuggling girls from Moldavia and the Ukraine. The unit has been cut back from 14 to seven officers as police have been assigned other positions due to the security situation.
Almost all the women come from the former Soviet Union where the high rate of unemployment and low pay make them vulnerable to the lure of procurers. In Moldavia, for example, 55% of the population live under the poverty line and the GNP per person is $ 400.
"In Moldavia, a woman simply must work somewhere so that her child and her husband, who is capable of wasting a month's salary on alcohol, will not starve to death. A salary of $ 35 a month is barely enough to survive. So the girl, out of stupidity or naivete, goes abroad with the hope of being a nanny, but arrives to a closed place where she must pleasure clients for 20 to 30 shekels."
Today, after Israel has tightened control at the airport, the women are smuggled through Egypt by Beduins, at a rate of about 30 to 40 a week, according to police.
Upon their arrival, the women are put up for sale, sometimes at a public auction where they are exhibited in front of a large crowd of pimps and sold to the highest bidder.
"The public auctions are just like the slave trade that you see in the movies," says Aviram. "They check their teeth and look to see if they have scars. The price is set by their looks. It's a slave market in the most disgusting way. The pimps look at them as merchandise. 'You belong to me. I bought you,' they tell the girls. I heard one of the girls say, 'When I lived in Moldavia I used to take my dog out twice a day to the yard to relieve himself. Here they held me locked up. I needed permission to go to the bathroom, to eat. My dog had it better.'"
According to a report by the Hotline for Migrant Workers submitted to the UN Commission on Human Rights, "The woman's intimate parts are often examined in order to appraise the value of the 'merchandise.' The price of a woman may vary from $ 4,000 to $ 10,000 depending on age and looks. The quality of a woman's false documents is also a factor in estimating her price."
In the court case of the State of Israel vs Reuven Rivai, the judge describes the sale of a woman named Eliona as follows: "A meeting was set for the following day at the McDonald's restaurant at the Gan Shmuel intersection... negotiations were held regarding the sale of Eliona for the purpose of prostitution. At the end of the negotiations, Eliona was taken to the men's room, stripped naked and examined by the buyer. It was agreed that she would be sold for $ 6,000... Eliona's examination can only be compared to the examination of cattle in the market."
After the sale to one of the country's 700 brothels, the women are told they will have to "pay their debt" to the pimps before they start earning any money - only about NIS 20 of the NIS 200 paid by the customers. They are fined for numerous "infractions": not smiling at clients, looking out the window or drinking a glass of wine without permission. The working hours are unbearable - 15 to 17 a day, and the women get few, if any, days off. Levenkron tells the story of one girl who was forced to spend her 21st birthday servicing 37 clients.
"I worked the morning shift in the brothel," one victim told the police. "The morning shift starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 a.m. ... the owner would sleep with any girl he wanted. We did not have the right to refuse."
According to police, often the pimp sells the woman to another brothel as soon as she has worked off her "debt" and the cycle of exploitation begins again.
"They keep rotating the girls among the brothels so the regular customers won't get bored," says Aviram.
"We have some girls who run away and come to us with nothing but a nylon bag with a couple of pairs of underwear," says Kaplan. "This is definitely modern slavery. In the end, after being abused, they end up with nothing."
Svetlana, 22, from the Ukraine.
"One day Natasha managed to escape. We don't know how, but we woke up in the morning and she wasn't there. We were so happy, not only because it infuriated the owner. He went wild. But also because we hoped, that if she succeeded, then one day we could succeed as well. That was the only day that I can remember since I got to Israel that I stopped feeling fear and despair and began to feel some hope."
A long-term solution to the problem, according to some Israeli activists, is nothing less than a restructuring of society. They point to Sweden where women have almost half the political power and, as a result, prostitution has been reduced by 60 percent in the last few decades.
"Prostitution is rooted in the structure of society and in the inequality between men and women," says Gold of the Awareness Institute. "To say that in 100 years the phenomenon will disappear, just as did African slavery, might be too optimistic. But in order to begin making the change we must not institutionalize or legitimize prostitution."
Gali (not her real name), an Israeli prostitute with a going rate of NIS 50, has her own opinions on this and other subjects. Gali has staked her spot behind the Mandarin Hotel in Tel Aviv, a dusty lot that serves as daytime parking for beach-goers but transforms at night into an outdoor brothel. Gali has fought off all challengers to her spot, especially younger and prettier prostitutes, resorting to violence when cursing and tough words don't scare them off.
"You have to be strong here or else you get trampled," she says in a husky voice.
It's a Thursday night and already the cars, headlights piercing the dark, circle Gali and her colleagues like a column of ants around breadcrumbs.
"This is pretty good traffic despite the bad economy," she observes and flicks the blonde hair of her wig with manicured fingers.
Gali is an intelligent, articulate woman who seems as if she could easily work as a store manager or run an office. She says that as bad as things are for her and the other Israeli prostitutes, there is nothing worse than the hell experienced by the young Eastern European girls smuggled into the country by traffickers.
"What the pimps do to them is like cutting into live meat," she says. "We've had a few of the girls who managed to run away from the pimps. They went through hell, rape, beatings and humiliation. They didn't know the language and didn't even know where they were. Their passports were taken away. They told us they were afraid to complain. There is nothing worse than for a woman to be forced into prostitution. At least I work for myself and not for some pimp," she says.
Gali has the social equation neatly summed up: "As long as there are men and as long as there are desperate, hungry women, there will be prostitution."
(Box 1) Physical abuse, psychological trauma
Prostitution is hazardous to mental health, even more so than being a combat soldier, according to a recent American study which found that prostitutes had a higher rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), than American Vietnam veterans.
"It's a devastating experience. They are beaten, robbed, raped and degraded and this has a cumulative effect on their self-esteem and mental health," says Eli Somer, psychology professor at the University of Haifa's School of Social Work.
Somer cites studies that indicate prostitutes are raped on average eight to 10 times a year and have a 75 percent rate of at least one suicide attempt. The vast majority, some studies indicate 90 percent, were sexually molested as children.
"How can anyone even think of legalizing something that is so damaging?" he asks.
Philosophically, Somer views prostitution as a shameful thread woven into the fabric of a male-dominated society.
"This is another illustration of how men exploit women's economic poverty," he says. "All the bad things assigned to us men are reflected in prostitution."
He pauses and adds: "I get embarrassed sometimes for being a man."
Nomi Levenkron, of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, knows of at least two women who have had mental breakdowns and had to be hospitalized.
Once the women are able to extricate themselves from the clutches of the traffickers and return home, their nightmare is not over.
Researchers for the International Organization for Migration published a report last year stating that 92 percent of victims had major problems returning to normal life. They experienced physical and mental health problems, a divorce rate three times higher than the average and numerous suicides or suicide attempts. They are threatened by traffickers to keep silent, and some are forced to join the trafficking networks to recruit new victims.
(Box 2) An old (Jewish) profession
Jews have been active in "white slavery" (as trafficking was known) beginning in the late 19th century in Eastern Europe. The poverty, discrimination, persecution and mass migrations proved to be fertile ground for brothel keeping and procuring, according to Nissan Ben-Ami of the Awareness Institute. A third of the women in the trade were Jewish and Jews organized an elaborate crime network to procure and transport women to Argentina, South Africa and England, he says.
According to Yale University historian Edward Bristow, in 1892, 22 Jewish traffickers in Lemberg (Lvov) in the Ukraine were convicted of procuring women for Turkish brothels. Jewish traffickers populated whole streets in Czernowitz. Refugees from Russian pogroms established the first brothels in Saloniki. In Warsaw, Jewish bundists were so outraged by the presence of Jewish brothel-keepers, that in 1905 they demolished 40 brothels. Eight people were killed and 100 injured in the riot.
In Buenos Aires, the powerful fraternity of Jewish pimps and procurers was known as the Zwi Migdal Society. They had their own synagogue and burial ground. Surveying the ground at the cemetery, the author Stefan Zweig remarked, "So much dirt, how much Jewish dirt. Where can I get the energy to describe this?"
In his book, Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery, Bristow chronicles the efforts of voluntary Jewish organizations to rescue Jewish victims from brothels and to fight the traffickers. It is largely due to Jewish efforts that legislation against procuring and juvenile prostitution was passed in Britain and South Africa.
Bristow cites a letter written in 1902 by American Rabbi Stephen Wise to a London rabbi, president of the gentleman's club of the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women.
"According to the statement of my informant, a large number of Jewish women in Manila are to be found in the ranks of prostitution. He thinks that at one time the number reached 200, but that now the number is less than 100, thanks to measures of the American government. These women are mainly of Galician, Russian or Rumanian birth. It is almost too shocking to put to paper, but according to Mr. Rubinstein, the statement of a man that he is a Jew is followed invariably by the question 'Have you any nice women to sell?' Saddest of all is the fact that these women have not chosen a life of shame of their own free will, but have for the most part been inveigled under promises or pretense of marriage These victims of deceit and treachery, though leading dissolute lives, are conscious of their shame, are not drunken and hilarious and frequently weep over their degradation."
(Box 3) Luckier ladies 'sold' to cops
Tel Aviv police ran a sting operation on May 12, with officers posing as pimps "purchasing" three Moldavian girls smuggled by Beduins over the Egyptian border.
"This is the first time we were able to get close to the smugglers working on both sides of the border," says Eli Kaplan, superintendent of the Tel Aviv Police Central Unit. The Beduin were armed and the police officers were not.
"So we gave them only part of the money, $ 10,000, and the rest we told them we would pay in Tel Aviv. When one of the Beduin arrived to get the money, we arrested him," says Kaplan. The police have not yet arrested the other two, nor recovered the $ 10,000 of taxpayers' money. According to police, the Beduin, Saliman Abu-Shalibi, 26, of the al-Azma tribe, has been charged with smuggling, selling and raping the women.
The girls "purchased" by the police told a harrowing tale. They were flown into Egypt and taken by Beduin into the desert.
"We spent three nights in the desert on the Egyptian side. The first group of Beduin treated us OK. They gave us food and cigarettes and laughed with us. They tried to rape us, but we threatened to tell the bosses in Israel on them," says Olla, 20.
A rival gang of Beduin kidnapped the girls at gunpoint.
"It was difficult and dangerous. They forced us to walk on foot and climb hills. It was difficult to breathe and my heart pounded. We had to climb big boulders. We hid when we saw headlights of cars. We moved at night. To cross the border, we started at around 7 at night and we were in Israel at 6 in the morning."
That is when their real ordeal began.
"We were put in a ruined house in the middle of the desert and were left there the entire day without food or water. There were signs left by women who had been there before us. We wanted to run away, but we didn't know where to go."
Christina, 20, picks up the story.
"At night the Beduin arrived with a car. We drove around in the desert. He was high on drugs. Suddenly he stopped the car, opened the door where I was sitting. He shouted at me to get out. I didn't want to. He was shouting at me. He was drugged out, so I was afraid. I got out and he told me to get undressed. I told him I was in the middle of my period, but he didn't understand."
At this point, Olla, who had worked previously as a call girl, got out of the car to protect Christina, who was innocent about such things. Christina, a petite girl with piercing blue eyes and a quiet demeanor, had been told in Moldavia that she would work in Israel as a waitress in a casino.
"He told me to get undressed. I refused," says Olla. "He said, 'all the time that you are with me, I am your owner and you will do what I tell you.' He threw me on the ground on my belly, stripped me, held my hands behind my back, and opened up my legs with his and that's it. He finished inside me. I told him I don't have contraception. He told me I will have a baby and he laughed.
"At 6 in the morning he returned us to the house and left us there all day with no food or water. Another night he brought two friends with him."
The girls consider themselves lucky to have been "sold" to the Tel Aviv police.
"We are helping the police by testifying so that this phenomenon will be wiped out," says Olla. "We are not animals and we are not slaves. We are people and not objects to be used."
Due to new regulations, the girls, who are in the country illegally, are not jailed but stay in a hostel paid for by the police until the time of the trial. Meanwhile they have found legitimate work.
"I am able to work in a respectable way," says Olla, who is tall, skinny, and dressed provocatively in tight- fitting black pants and high-heeled black shoes. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Her face is clean of make-up. Her brown eyes are deep set and sad. She plays nervously with a key chain during the interview. She has an air of hurt melancholy about her.
"When I was a little girl my dream was to be a mother and to give my children everything," she says.
This is Olla's second time in Israel. Previously, she worked in an escort service for about seven months before she was caught by police and deported. Upon her return to Moldavia she met the same poverty and hunger that drove her to prostitution in the first place.
Olla says she can't remember much about her first encounter with a client. She drank three glasses of whiskey to dull her senses.
"I felt hurt. Back in Moldavia I agreed to do this kind of work, but when I was confronted with the truth and understood what I needed to do, I felt disgusted." Olla says she had to work without pay until she returned her $ 5,000 purchase price to the owner of the escort service.
"Some of the clients were masochists, drug addicts and perverts. It was disgusting. I tried to ignore my thoughts because I had no choice."
The women say they would like nothing better than to be allowed to stay in Israel on temporary papers and to work cleaning houses.
"At first the pimp used us. And now the police will use us as witnesses and then kick us out. All we want is a chance to work in a normal job," says Olla.