Combating Prostitution in Israel: Jerusalem Institute of Justice

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The Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) is a non-profit organization founded by lawyer Calev Myers in 2004. The group works for the protection and advancement of human rights and civil liberties for all persons in Israel and the adjacent territories. Passionate about human rights and justice, Flavia Sevald, 44, is the General Manager at JIJ.  She made Aliyah from Uruguay at age 15 and lives in Jerusalem.

Prostitution is legal in Israel, in accordance with the Prostitution and Abomination Act of 1949.  Pimping and brothels are illegal but they are a significant underground business. The Israeli sex industry reportedly brings in around $500 million dollars a year.

There is also a widespread wrongful perception that most prostitutes “choose” this “profession” – which may account for its legality and for the slowness in changing the law.

Flavia Sevald
Flavia Sevald, JIJ General Manager

However, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) is committed to taking determined action toward changing the legislation on prostitution in Israel.

“The average age of entry to prostitution in this country is 13-14 years old,” explains Flavia Sevald, JIJ’s General Manager. “These young girls do not choose this life; it is imposed on them. Most prostitutes are forced into it by human traffickers, mafia and others.”

Indeed, research shows that prostitution is a highly traumatic business that involves rape, violent assault, coercion and sexually transmitted diseases. It results in drug addiction, suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociation.  

Managing the anti-prostitution project, Flavia works together with professional political lobbyists in order to affect change.  “We want to try to reduce the level of prostitution in Israel but also to cause the Government to perceive the women in a different way. Prostitution is not a job. We believe that if the government takes a stand against it then the people will follow. And there will be a change; no one will say, anymore, that it is just a job.”  

JIJ is working toward changing the law so that the client will be criminalized for buying sex. This approach follows the ‘Nordic Model’ initiated by Sweden in 1999 as part of a Violence Against Women Act. Through this law Sweden criminalized the sex buyer rather than the prostitute. The concept behind this model is that to fight effectively against sexual exploitation and trafficking there must be a criminalizing penalty for those who buy the use of another person’s body. Sweden’s law has been so successful that prostitution has been radically reduced in that country. Norway, Iceland and Northern Ireland followed suit and passed similar laws – and many other countries are discussing doing the same.

“We hope that having a law that criminalizes the client will serve as a deterrent in Israel, “Flavia says. “We would like to have a law whereby, for the first offence, the client will be sent on a course to understand why prostitution is so bad. And for the second offence he will be sent to prison for six months.” The men will think twice about whether it is worth having their name exposed on a police file, and the shaming that would go with that.”

JIJ first began working on this project in 2009 and have been able to get their proposals through two of the three required rounds of voting in the Knesset. It has taken time because of government instability and new elections.

“Each time we get close we have to start again,” Flavia says. “This year we are starting again with the new government.” Undeterred, JIJ is holding on for change.

For information about JIJ and how to support this anti-prostitution initiative please see: http://jij.org/justice-projects/human-trafficking/