Thursday, March 04, 2004
Ex-sex slaves get help to testify
By Hilary Leila Krieger
Jerusalem Post - March 4, 2004
Former sex slaves who are willing to testify against the men who enslaved them can now receive Israeli work permits and stay at a new shelter providing support services aimed at weaning them from prostitution.
The measure, approved by the Interior Ministry, was announced Wednesday at a meeting of the Knesset Committee of Inquiry into Trafficking in Women.
The women will be able to live and work legally in Israel for a year, after which they will return to their native countries or seek renewals, which would be granted primarily to those whose testimony has yet to be completed.
Currently, police place victims who agree to testify in hotels and private residences, where they often return to prostitution, in part because they have no legal work status. They have to leave the country immediately after they appear in court and don't receive the psychological, medical, or legal services that the shelter offers.
The state hopes the new program will give the women a reason to stay involved with the system rather than flee.
The shelter, which can house up to 50 women, opened two weeks ago and currently holds nine of the country's 84 former sex slaves who are waiting to testify.
"Since women want to send money home to their families in their country of origin, we need to allow them a legal alternative to work and earn money. In this way we will decrease their motivation to continue working in prostitution. Without this, it will mean the women will stay in the shelter 24 hours a day as in a pressure cooker," shelter director Ronit Davidovitch told the committee.
Rita Chakin, who coordinates the anti-trafficking project at Isha L'Isha, the Haifa Feminist Center, welcomed the inauguration of the shelter and the granting of work permits, but said they are no panacea.
For one thing, they help only those who agree to serve as witnesses. While Chakin has no specific statistics, she knows of many cases where women have declined to testify out of fear of their former captors or even out of loyalty to them.
"Israel has no solution for these women," she said.
She estimates that the country has 6,000-7,000 sex slaves, though the Knesset Center for Research and Information survey put the number at half that.
Women who are arrested by police in raids, escape from the brothels, or otherwise end up in custody are generally quickly deported to their home countries if they don't agree to testify against their former pimps.