Justice, Sex & Gender

Who is the criminal?

Salon reports that on Tuesday, the Working Group Against the Trafficking of Women pulled a stunt in Tel Aviv intended to jolt people out of their stupor about sex trafficking in Israel, and ultimately to get enough signatures to push forward a measure that would criminalize johns.
Although here in the states, I’m generally inclined to avoid clipboard holders (I’m perfectly capable of finding my own petitions to sign, thank you, and generally opposed to giving out my name and address to random people on the street whom I have no idea if they really represent the organization they state), this would probably grab my attention:

Activists lined up seven women like merchandise in the window of a shop in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center mall. A sign above them read, “Women for sale according to personal taste.” Haaretz reports that some “were made up to appear as if they had been beaten, and all had price tags that listed details such as age, weight, dimensions, and country of birth.”

It hasn’t been a secret for some time now that sex trafficking in Israel is an enormous problem. Way back in 2005, a report was issued by The Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, headed by Knesset member Zehava Galon of the left-wing Yahad party, which commissioned the report in an effort to combat the sex trade in Israel. Findings showed that some 3,000 and 5,000 women were smuggled to Israel annually and sold into the prostitution industry for about $8-10,000 American dollars, where they are constantly subjected to violence and abuse. Two years before that Israel passed a law that would allow the state to confiscate the profits of traffickers, but watchdog groups say it is rarely enforced.
This law would be different. In 1999, Sweden took the same approach advocated by this new measure, and criminalized johns; trafficking has since been significantly reduced. A report in July of this year, published by the government of Sweden evaluated the law’s first ten years and how it has actually worked in practice. It states,

street prostitution has been cut in half; there is no evidence that the reduction in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere, whether indoors or on the Internet; the bill provides increased services for women to exit prostitution; fewer men state that they purchase sexual services; and the ban has had a chilling effect on traffickers who find Sweden an unattractive market to sell women and children for sex. Following initial criticism of the law, police now confirm it works well and has had a deterrent effect on other organizers and promoters of prostitution. Sweden appears to be the only country in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking has not increased.

4 thoughts on “Who is the criminal?

  1. If even a security state such as Israel has problems with smugglers I wonder what the extent of the problem might be in the united states.

  2. I wonder how criminalizing johns affects the likelihood that they will report to the authorities if they come in contact with a sex worker that they believe to be the victim of trafficking…

  3. One of the problems in combatting this problem has been the increasing use of ‘sex worker’ in place of ‘whore’.
    Its much harder to stop a smuggler with his ‘sex workers’ (who therefore could be just another businessman with employees) than it would be to stop a scumbag with his whores.

  4. Is the end goal an end to sex-trafficking, or prostitution, or both? These are related, but not identical issues. Targeting johns targets prostitution, which is illegal, but largely ignored. Doing so, based on Sweden’s example, will have positive knock-on effects on trafficking. However, one could target trafficking itself, without focusing on domestic prostitution.
    I think the state’s power to prevent prostitution between two willing participants is negligible, and may constitute a waste of resources.
    When human beings are “imported” against their will and forced to participate in prostitution it is another matter altogether, and here there is no question for me that the government should step in. I am surprised that sex-trafficking is not seen as a border security issue. If you can move women and children through the desert, why not armed combatants and weapons? I think Israel is already or has plans to construct an electronic fence on the Egyptian border. We’ll see.

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