Justice minister presents legislation to fine johns who hire prostitutes

Ayelet Shaked unveils government-sponsored bill that would impose a penalty on customers purchasing sex services

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A young woman stands outside a south Tel Aviv brothel, September 21, 2008. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative: A young woman stands outside a south Tel Aviv brothel, September 21, 2008. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Wednesday presented draft legislation that would levy fines on the clients of prostitutes, after nearly a decade of efforts by female lawmakers to criminalize purchasing sex services in Israel.

The government-sponsored, which bill Shaked presented to the Knesset’s Subcommittee on Combating Trafficking of Women and Prostitution, would impose a NIS 1,500 ($420) fine on “johns.” Customers caught a second time within three years would be fined double the amount.

Offenders would have a choice to pay the fine, appeal it, or request to be tried in court. The text of the bill gives the court the authority to increase the fine to up to NIS 14,400 ($4,000) if the john is found guilty. The offenses will not be counted toward a criminal record.

Though pimping, sex trafficking and running a brothel are punishable under Israeli law, prostitution itself remains legal.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the official opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Today we are sending a message that trafficking women and purchasing prostitution services are out of bounds,” Shaked told the trafficking subcommittee. “Using prostitution services is morally wrong, offensive and objectifies women’s bodies.”

She said the legislation was part of a wider government plan she would present to lawmakers later this year that will include rehabilitation programs for both sex workers and their customers.

“Prostitution needs to be handled much more broadly, which we will be doing in the months to come,” she said.

Shaked said she would chaperone the bill though its three required Knesset readings before it becomes law by the end of the current legislative session.

“This is a day to celebrate,” said committee chairwoman Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid). “We are presented with an opportunity to take a historic step for the thousands of women and girls who are trapped in this cycle.”

If passed, Shaked’s law would go into effect for a five-year trial period, during which law enforcement would study its effectiveness.

In 2016, the Welfare Ministry estimated there were 11,420-12,730 sex workers in Israel driving the country’s NIS 1.2 billion ($318 million) industry. According to that report, 71 percent of prostitutes said they began sex work out of financial desperation, and 76% said they would leave the industry if they could.

Punishing prostitution clients was first introduced by Sweden in its 1999 Sex Purchase Act, which has since been adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, France, and Northern Ireland, and requires consumers to pay a fine or face up to six months in jail.

Defending the apparent contradiction in making buying sex illegal, but selling it legal, Sweden has contended that prostitution is essentially an act of exploitation and violence by the customers, who hold a position of power and should bear the brunt of the penalty.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report

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