Last Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014, 13:47 GMT

Israel: Tel Aviv shelter provides refuge for sex workers

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 22 July 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Israel: Tel Aviv shelter provides refuge for sex workers, 22 July 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/488f180c1e.html [accessed 23 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

TEL AVIV, 22 July 2008 (IRIN) - Experts say the number of foreign women trafficked to Israel has decreased, following a government crackdown on brothels employing trafficked women, but the number of Israeli women working the streets has gone up.

"We do not have absolute numbers - no one knows exactly how many people work in the sex industry in Israel - but police reports, as well as accounts gathered from volunteers and working women, indicate a steep decline in the number of trafficked women," said Leah Gruenpeter-Gold from the Toda'a Institute, an Israeli non-governmental organisation (NGO) conducting research on trafficking and commercial sex workers.

"This has pushed up the number of Israeli prostitutes on the streets to feed demand," she said, adding that in 2007 her group provided a report on these issues to the UN Human Rights Council .

Attorney Naomi Levenkron from the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an expert on the trafficking of women, said there had been a decline in the number of trafficked women brought into Israel in the past two years.

Researchers and volunteers say street workers provide their services for the equivalent of about US$30 in some cases. In other cases women are working for a paltry $2.5 - constantly at risk of violence, including rape and muggings. Most of the women in the sex industry work for pimps, according to the police and the NGOs.

Many of these women - estimated in the hundreds - are addicted to hard drugs, and have only one option for respite - a unique shelter, optimistically named The Door of Hope, in Tel Aviv's most run-down neighbourhood of Newe Shaanan.

The sex workers can go there to eat, shower and sleep for a few hours with nothing expected in return, a rarity for these women. They can also choose clean clothes from donations the organisation receives. About 100 women use the shelter on a regular basis; 20-30 go six days a week, according to volunteers.

A., aged 37, who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, said she has been working the streets for several years. In her former homeland, she alleges, she was a gymnast.

"I won many championships," she recalled, although her now emaciated body indicated that her heroin addiction was strong.

Another woman, N., aged 53, said she was a grandmother of three, but no longer had contact with her family after working as a commercial sex worker for many years. She said she mostly slept at a homeless shelter in Tel Aviv, but wished she could stay at The Door of Hope.

Fear

The Door of Hope is only open from 1700 to 2200. It cannot operate at night for fear of retribution from organised criminal groups which run nearby brothels.

"They're all someone's mother, sister, wife, grandmother. They're not trash, despite the fact that society treats them as such," a volunteer worker at the centre told IRIN.

While he and the other volunteers try to focus on the success stories - specifically, three women whom they helped get off drugs and off the streets - most cases do not end well.

"Occasionally one of [the women] disappears and then we see her photo in the paper in the 'Jane Doe' [dead and unclaimed] section," said another volunteer.

The Israeli Health Ministry said it operates a free clinic in Tel Aviv for sex workers that provides medical care, condoms and needle exchanges.

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