New Israeli Law Criminalizes Paying for Sex

LOS ANGELES—A new law criminalizing payment in exchange for sexual services took effect in Israel last week, even as a new survey by Tel Aviv University found that nearly one in every three Israeli men say they have paid for sex at least one time in their lives, and one in six say that they have paid on multiple occasions.

Sex work has long been legalized in Israel — but most of the activities that make professional sex work possible are not. Operating a brothel and “pimping” are outlawed in the country of about 8.8 million, and in January of last year, Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, passed a new law making the payment of money for sexual services a crime.

Israel is estimated to have 14,000 sex workers, 95 percent of them women, according to a Jerusalem Post report. 

That law finally took effect on July 10 of this year. Not only is paying for sex illegal under the new law, but even seeking the services of a sex worker can now be punished by a fine ranging from the equivalent of $530 for a first offense, to a maximum of $20,400 for repeat offenses, according to a report by The Times of Israel.  

In fact, the law now makes it illegal even to be caught in a place where sexual services are offered, such as a brothel. 

The government put the law into effect last Friday over the objections of activist groups and government agencies who said that Israel had not put in place adequate programs to aid the sex workers who will be starved of income as a result of the new law.

“Women and men who enter the cycle of prostitution to earn a living cannot escape if the authorities don’t extend a hand,” Hila Peer, chair of The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, told The Times, adding that the government was “insensitively abandoning the weakest population.”

But Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Israel’s centrist-liberal Blue and White Party was unmoved by the protests.

“Women are not merchandise and their bodies are not for rent for the maximum price. Despite the pressures, I did not agree to postpone the application of the Prohibition of Prostitution Act” Nissenkorm said on his official Twitter account. “At the same time, rehabilitative responses to prostitution survivors will be provided.”

But there has yet been no indication of what those “rehabilitative responses” will be.

According to the Tel Aviv University survey of 2,000 Jewish Israeli men and women, a majority of Israelis do not believe that the new law will curtail sex work activities. In the study, 31.2 percent of men, and 3.4 percent of women said that they had paid for sexual services at least one time in their lives.

Photo By Valeria Boltneva / Pexels