In the recent past, Israel was faced with a severe phenomenon of human trafficking for prostitution. Since the mid-1990's until around 2005, women were "imported" to Israel from poverty-stricken countries and forced into prostitution by criminal groups. According to police estimates, 3,000 women were trafficked for prostitution in the year 2003 alone, and there were 300-400 operating brothels and escort services. Other sources believe that these numbers were even greater.
Most of the victims were young women in their 20's from the former Soviet Union. They faced extreme poverty in their native countries. Some of them did not even know that they were being brought to Israel to be forced into prostitution; rather, they believed they were coming to fill positions as domestic workers such as au-pairs or cleaning women. Others who did know that they were coming to Israel to work in prostitution believed that they would be making large sums of money, could choose the number of men they were to "serve", and could leave whenever they wished. They were not aware of the inhumane conditions in which they would be held, of the fact that they would not be paid for their "services", nor of the abuse and violence that they were to face. Many of these women were smuggled into Israel through the Egyptian border, and then immediately sold to pimps, sometimes through public auctions which included humiliating physical inspections.
Upon arriving at the different brothels, the women's passports and other documentation were confiscated, and the women were confined, left in isolation and solitude. They suffered violence, rape, were denied medical attention, and were threatened that if they did not cooperate their families back home would be harmed. They were forced to "work" in prostitution for long hours each day, seven days a week. Some were sold several times over. Many of them were never paid or else received meager wages. They were susceptible to "debt bondage", as they needed to repay their "owners" the cost of purchasing and bringing them to Israel, and so long as this debt was not paid off, they could not make any profit. In reality the debt could never be paid off, for it only continued to grow larger as it accumulated interest and arbitrary penalties.
This phenomenon has greatly decreased thanks to unwavering determination of the relevant authorities, including the police, the State Attorney's office and the court system, various protections for victims, tight border control and preventative measures by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies. The fact that human trafficking for prostitution purposes has dramatically decreased in Israel is acknowledged by government authorities, non-government organizations and international bodies.
In 2010, not a single case of trafficking in women was reported. Since 2011, there were a limited number of women who were brought to Israel for prostitution; however, it appears that the circumstances were very different than in the severe cases of the early 2000's.
In these more recent cases, women are fully aware that they are to be "employed" in prostitution. They arrive with legal tourist visas, and come to "work" for short periods of time; they are not faced with the horrendous conditions of the past which included violence, threats, seclusion, withholding of passports, and complete denial of liberty; they do earn money. Nonetheless, these cases may still be considered human trafficking according to the Israeli law, as oftentimes a transaction of a person for prostitution purposes is committed, a crime according to Article 377a of the Israeli Penal Code. Due to evidentiary and other difficulties, these cases are sometimes charged in other criminal offences (such as pimping or causing a person to leave one's country for the purpose of prostitution). To read more about these new patterns, read this document
- written in 2012 by a student intern at the unit.