Up to 3,000 sex slaves in Israel - survey
There are between 1,000 and 3,000 women in Israel who are subjected to sex slavery, and there is an intensive commerce in women in the country, say editors of the most recent survey conducted by the Knesset's Center for Research and Information examining the public's attitude toward trafficking in women.
"Nobody knows exactly how many there are, but I would add another 0 to that number. The figure is probably more like 30,000," argues Annette Collins, founder of the women's self-help group Anachnu Shavot ("We Are Worthy") and one of the organizers of this week's international conference on the sex industry.
The three-day conference entitled "Our Voice," opening on Wednesday, has been organized by women who have been involved in the sex industry.
The conference grapples with fundamental issues pertinent to the trade, such as how women become involved in the sex industry, whether legalization of prostitution is beneficial to prostitutes or pimps, and what networks can be established to help women caught in the sexual underworld.
In addition to lectures, "Our Voice" will also include psychodrama workshops, music sessions, and art exhibitions showcasing work created by women in the sex trade.
International speakers at the conference, hosted at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, include Janice G. Raymond from the US-based International Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Norma Hotaling from Sage (San Francisco), Mikko Roth from Hope (Sweden), and Christy Ten Broeke, from P.I.C. (Holland).
Local speakers include representatives from Isha l'Isha ("Woman to Woman"), Elem, and Tair, as well as former MK Yael Dayan and current Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, head of the parliamentary investigatory committee against the trafficking of women.
Gal-On, who will be speaking against the legalization of prostitution, told The Jerusalem Post: "There's a terrible exploitation of poverty in the sex trade. Women are dragged into prostitution as the last choice when they simply have no other options. The money that's made on their backs fuels the world of organized crime in Israel.
"[While] it's impossible to overcome the problem entirely, we can attempt to fight against it and establish safety networks to help these women."
Gal-On called the conditions for prostitutes working in this country "catastrophic," saying they form what is possibly the worst characteristic of the Israeli sex trade today.
"It's the first time an international conference on this subject is being held in Israel and it's not academic, it's the initiative of women in the business," Gal-On added. "Hopefully, it will enable people to understand what forces women into this business, what it's really like, and how one can get out. I see this conference as being hugely symbolic."
"This conference provides a very positive, optimistic model," said Dorit Freedman, head of Erim Balayla ("Awake at Night"), Elem's outreach program for sex trade workers who are under 21. "It gives women hope that one day maybe they too will be able to leave that world, It takes a lot of courage to put a conference like this together, and the women deserve to speak and to be heard."