Israel has as many as 8,500 sex slaves, according to a new comprehensive study of worldwide slavery. Israel placed 111 out of 162 slave-holding countries in the Global Slavery Index 2013 , recently published by the Australian Walk Free Foundation.
In 2006, the United Nations named Israel as one of the main destinations in the world for trafficked women.
Israel has also been named as an offender in the annual U.S. State Department‘s Trafficking in Persons (Tip) report, which condemned the Jewish state for not fully complying with the “minimum standards” to eliminate sex trafficking.
According to Canadian journalist and social activist Victor Malarek, “Israeli state owned and private newspaper ads from modeling and employment agencies promise exciting jobs, but the women are duped. They must submit, or they are raped, beaten and tortured. There are between 5,000 and 10,000 trafficked women in Israel and more than 280 brothels in Tel Aviv alone.”
With the promise of a job and better economic and social conditions, women are driven to slavery and sold in auctions that take place in Israeli nightclubs and bars. Afterwards they are pimped, beaten and isolated. Several trafficked women are subjected to degrading human auctions, where they are stripped, examined and sold for $8,000-$10,000.
The BBC interviewed one of the trafficked women in Israel, who gave her name as Marina. She is now hiding in a small house in northern Israel because she is wanted by the Israeli authorities for being an illegal immigrant and by the criminal gangs who lured her to Israel to sell her into prostitution.
“When I was in the Ukraine, I had a difficult life,”
said Marina, who came to Israel in 1999 at the age of 33 after answering a newspaper advertisement offering the opportunity to study abroad.
“I was taken to an apartment in Ashkelon, and other women there told me I was now in prostitution. I became hysterical, but a guy started hitting me and then others there raped me. I was then taken to a place where they sold me – just sold me!”
She said, recalling how she was locked in a windowless basement for a month, drank water from a toilet and was deprived of food.
Although Marina managed to escape, she is still suffering from the physical and mental scars that she endured during her captivity in Israel. Like Marina, several other women most from the former Soviet republics, central Asia and nearby Arab towns and countries are trafficked into Israel legally on the false promise of jobs and better economic conditions. Recent figures show that from the beginning of the 1990s to the early years of 2000, an estimated 3,000 women a year were trafficked to Israel.
Although prostitution in Israel is legal, pimping and running a brothel are not. However, the law isn’t enforced, and several brothels masquerading as massage parlours, saunas and internet cafes could be seen on the streets.
In Tel Aviv’s Neve Shaanan district for instance, a brothel is located outside the Shin beth police station!
The absence of anti-trafficking laws in Israel means that such inhumane activity is unchecked just because no jewish women are trafficked.
“During the first 10 years of trafficking, Israel did absolutely nothing,”
said Nomi Levenkron, of the Migrant Workers’ Hotline, an NGO which helps trafficked women and puts pressure on the state to act.
“Women were trafficked into Israel – the first case we uncovered was in 1992 and not much really happened,”
“Occasionally traffickers were brought to trial, but the victims were arrested as well, they were forced to testify, and then they were deported.”
What’s more shocking is that, since 1994, no single woman has testified against any trafficker. Many say this could be attributed to the fact that although women are the victims, trafficked women are the ones usually arrested as illegal immigrants by Israeli officials, while the men who brought them to Israel, who are usually Israeli, are not.
According to NGOs, trafficking was made a crime in Israel in 2000, but the punishments were lenient and law enforcement was poor. Authorities only began to act after fierce criticism from the US and the threat of sanctions. In an effort to fight sex slavery, Israel tightened its borders, launched investigations into suspected traffickers, and handed down stiff jail sentence to traffickers.
The opening of a shelter for trafficked women in north Tel Aviv in 2004 also marked a change in the way the state perceived the victims. There are some 30 women at the Maggan shelter – most from former Soviet states, but also five from China.
“When they come here they are in a bad condition,”
said Rinat Davidovich, the shelter’s director.
“Most have sexual diseases and some have hepatitis and even tuberculosis. They also have problems going to sleep because they remember what used to happen to them at night… It’s very hard and it’s a long procedure to start to help and treat them.”