12,000 women work in prostitution in Israel, gov’t says

Welfare Ministry study finds 62% are mothers, 11% are minors; 52% born in the FSU; each sees an average of 5.5 customers per day

Illustrative: A prostitute on a street in south Tel Aviv on January 1, 2013. (Flash90)
Illustrative: A prostitute on a street in south Tel Aviv on January 1, 2013. (Flash90)

A national survey conducted for the government reveals that some 12,000 women in Israel work in the sex trade, along with roughly 1,000 men.

The survey, conducted for the Welfare Ministry and concluded in recent weeks, counted between 11,420 and 12,730 sex workers nationwide, with an estimated 95% of the women and some 5% men. About 11% of the women are minors, according to the findings cited late Thursday by Channel 2.

Most of the women working in prostitution do so because they need the money. “They tell themselves they’ll start and stop quickly, but the truth is that they don’t leave it so easily,” Anat, an activist who works with prostitutes, told the television network.

The economic motive is borne out in the report. Fully two-thirds of the women begin working as prostitutes only after reaching desperate financial straits. Just 7% are driven to it through drug addiction.

The Welfare Ministry interviewed 700 female prostitutes and found that just over half, 52%, were born in the former Soviet Union. About 9% of women in prostitution started before their 18th birthday.

Among the women, 62% are mothers and 20% have an academic degree.

The women report an average of 5.5 customers each day.

Prostitution is illegal in Israel, yet remains an industry valued at some NIS 1.2 billion annually, according to Channel 2, of which 43% is made in “discrete apartments” where customers who are in the know visit a particular prostitute regularly.

Some 18% of the industry’s revenue comes from escort services, 16% from massage parlors that double as prostitution businesses and 18% as strip clubs and other institutions.

Just 6% of prostitutes work off the street, and earn much less than the more institutionalized forms of the sex trade, the report found.

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