Police have busted a sex trafficking ring that allegedly brought dozens of women from Ukraine to Israel for prostitution, according to a Friday report.
The so-called “Ibiza Escort” agency was headed by a 41-year-old from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, who has been identified only by the Hebrew initials “Aleph Shin.”
The crime ring allegedly made contact with the women while they were in Ukraine, brought the women to Israel to work as prostitutes, arranged their living situation in Israel and ferried them from customer to customer, Channel 13 news reported.
The Israelis found the women with the help of intermediaries in Ukraine, who sent videos and images of the women.
The women, some as young as 18, were advertised on the “Ibiza Escort” website and were paid some NIS 800-1,500 ($231-434) per hour for their services. About NIS 100 would go to the driver, and the rest would be split evenly between the woman and the agency.
“The managers also employed people that knew how to promote the group’s site and get as much money as possible from online advertisements. In a very short period of time, they made millions,” said Tzahi Tal of the Tel Aviv police.
In recent months, “Aleph Shin” raked in some NIS 11.6 million (approximately $3.38 million), the report said.
The crime ring also had the women appear on handbills which were dispersed around the city, attracting many customers.
Detectives compiled a list of the women who were brought to Israel for the purpose of prostitution. In a sting operation police then rented hotel rooms in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Netanya and requested women be sent to the separate locations at the same time to try to gather information about the group’s managers.
The police, mostly speaking English with the women, arranged payment for sex work, capturing the moment on hidden cameras for use as legal evidence.
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In one video, an undercover officer pays one of the women NIS 800 ($231) for an hour. She then tells him that if he wants, she can stay for an additional hour for more money.
After making the payment, the detectives then made phone calls to other police officers under the guise of ordering alcohol to the room. In videos broadcast by Channel 13, policewomen enter the room and identify themselves as police. They explain to the women that they are not going to be punished because the authorities are only interested in their employers.
“You’re not going to jail. I’m not arresting you. I’m going to let you speak on the phone to someone who speaks Russian, and he can explain it to you,” one police officer tells a woman.
“You don’t need to worry. You just come with me to the detention center and we’ll ask you several questions about who brings you here. Don’t touch the phone, don’t call nobody,” another says.
The investigators then arrested the managers of the group, uncovering WhatsApp messages about trafficking the women.
“This girl is 18, never worked before, she wants to get started,” reads one message.
“Bring them here first, we’ll give them a little work, it’ll be a pleasure for the office,” another says. Many of the text messages and voice messages described the women in vulgar terms.
Though pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable under existing Israeli law, prostitution itself remains legal.
In December 2018 The Knesset approved a bill that punishes johns caught hiring sex workers.
The bill criminalizes procuring the services of a prostitute, as well as presence in a location chiefly used for prostitution, such as a brothel.
First-time offenders are to be fined NIS 2,000 ($530), with the sum doubled for repeat offenses within three years. Prosecutors will also be empowered to indict prostitution clients in certain cases, with a maximum penalty fine of NIS 75,300 ($20,400).
In 2016, the Welfare Ministry estimated there were 11,420-12,730 sex workers 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.