Bill passes first reading in Knesset plenum, to be forwarded to parliamentary c’tee for adjustments before becoming law.
By Edgard Garrido / Reuters
A bill that will make paying for sex services a criminal offense passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday and will be forwarded to one of the parliamentary committees for further review and adjustments before becoming law.
The legislation was proposed by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, and is supported by many Knesset members from across the political spectrum.
It will impose a sentence of six-months in jail or community service on any person who utilizes the services of a prostitute or pays for any other related sexual services.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave the bill its initial stamp of approval, and the proposed draft is already being well-received by nonprofit organizations working with victims of prostitution and trafficking.
Earlier on Wednesday, Zuaretz held a hearing in her committee to discuss the success of the bill thus far and to explore next steps if and when the law is finally passed.
In her opening statement to the committee, Zuaretz emphasized that she feels it is her duty as an elected official to “protect human dignity” and that her work in making this law a reality is part and parcel of that. She described the legislation as a central element in empowering social change with regard to prostitution and human trafficking.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), chairwoman of the Committee on the Status of Women, called the bill an “historic achievement.”
“When I signed on this law, I thought it was only a pipe dream and that nothing would really be done to protect these women,” she said.
“But I believe that if you are determined then you can, one day, create a new order in society.”
Hotovely added that in the process of making this law a reality, Zuaretz had succeeded in changing accepted social norms, similar to when the law dealing with sexual harassment was first approved.
Heads of various nongovernment organizations working to eliminate human trafficking and sexual slavery, academics and other government officials also hailed the preliminary approval of the law, pointing out that it has already gone a long way toward changing accepted social attitudes toward the country’s booming sex industry.
Although there are no official figures, it is estimated that there are currently more than 15,000 people working in the prostitution industry in Israel, 5,000 of whom are minors. Israel has been a destination country for more than 25,000 victims of human trafficking since the 1990s.
Research further suggests that many of Israel’s prostitutes and sex slaves are controlled by pimps and some experience violence at the hands of their clients. The clients come from every segment of society and every ethnic, religious and socioeconomic stratum.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Tzippi Nachshon-Glick, director of Services for Adults and Young Adults at Risk in the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, also spoke about the existing government program to help rehabilitate women looking to leave the sex industry.
Nachshon-Glick said that the program, which was initiated by the government in 2006 and receives up to NIS 10 million a year for shelters and rehabilitation programs in Haifa and Tel Aviv, will soon be expanded to Beersheba and Eilat.