NEWS: Israel

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Fri, 17 Jul 1998 14:37:17 -0700 (PDT)


Ex-Soviet Women Become Prostitutes

By Dafna Linzer
Associated Press Writer

Monday, July 13, 1998

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- In St. Petersburg, the young woman had nothing. She
wanted out; she wanted adventure and she wanted money. The advertisement she
answered in a Russian newspaper said simply: ``Women needed, good money.''

She knew before she left Russia that the job meant prostitution. She says
she was promised easy work, good pay, travel.

But when the 20-year-old with gray-blue eyes and pale round face landed in
February with forged documents arranged by the prostitution ring, she was
immediately taken to an apartment and locked inside.

Customers began arriving immediately, quickly building to about 20 a day,
but she says she never saw any money. An elderly man regularly dropped off
food and condoms.

``I couldn't leave the house,'' she said in an interview at Neve Tirza
Prison. ``I was told that if I left, the police would come after me.''

She did not want her name used, fearing retribution from her pimps even
though she has been in jail awaiting deportation since being picked up in a
March police raid on her brothel.

Stories about sex slavery began surfacing shortly after the mass immigration
of Soviet Jews to Israel began in 1989 and eventually brought nearly 800,000
newcomers to Israel.

Israel was an easy target for Russian-based crime gangs, which used the
influx of immigrants as a cover for sneaking in an estimated 10,000
prostitutes over the past decade.

The sex trade quickly grew into a $450 million-a-year business in Israel.
``It's a neighborhood grocery store that turned into a huge chain,'' said
Esther Elam of the Israel Women's Network, a non-profit group.

A former police commissioner, Assaf Hefetz, said massage parlors and
backroom brothels have served as seedbeds for Russian-based gangs trying to
take root in Israel.

Such gangs already pour $4 billion into Israel each year, much of it in
money-laundering schemes, and could try to buy control of politicians,
judges and bankers if Israel is not vigilant, Hefetz said.

Earlier this year, a Russian immigrant businessman admitted he tried to
bribe top Israeli politicians and was sentenced to six years in jail.

``There is the start of a Russian mafia here, and the infrastructure exists
on which it can grow,'' Hefetz said.

Tens of thousands of eastern European and Russian women are believed to have
been recruited by prostitution rings for work in Europe, the Middle East and
North Africa.

In April 1997, the European Union adopted new guidelines aimed at
eradicating the illegal trade in women. Under the regulations, foreign
prostitutes would not be deported automatically, to give them time to report
offenses against them and testify against their pimps.

But Israel is not part of the EU and has not adopted the guidelines.

In Israel, few pimps are caught and even fewer serve time. In 1996, 150 men
were arrested on charges of pimping, soliciting and operating brothels, but
only 21 cases went to trial and there were no convictions. Most cases ended
with a plea bargain and fines or community service.

Although in jail, arrested prostitutes live in fear of gang bosses they have
never seen. When asked by a reporter about her employers, the St. Petersburg
woman stared at the wall of her cell and shook her head, refusing to answer.

``We're too afraid,'' said her cellmate, a slightly worn-looking 23-year-old
from Chisinau, Moldova. ``They could get us afterwards -- maybe not here,
but back home.''

She said she was a broke, unemployed medical masseuse when she answered a
newspaper ad last winter. Three men and a woman prepared her for her
February trip to Israel.

``They told me to dress modestly and not to wear make-up. They told me to
tell officials at the airport that I was visiting a sick aunt. They gave me
a fake address and phone number to memorize, in case anyone asked me,'' she
said.

She worked for two weeks out of an apartment before being taken to a brothel
with three other women. She had her own room and shared a communal bathroom.
Work began at noon and ended around 3 a.m.

Two guards took money at the door from clients, and she never saw her bosses.

In Moldova, she was told her employers would keep the first $6,000 of her
earnings to cover the cost of bringing her to Israel.

``But once I arrived in Israel, the terms changed,'' she said. ``I was told
that I had to work off the first $25,000. After that I could work on my own,
but I still had to pay them $1,000 each month.''

She was picked up by police just a month after arriving and ordered
deported. But like most of the other 84 prostitutes awaiting deportation at
Neve Tirza, she doesn't have the money for a ticket home.

Unlike many countries, Israel does not pay airfare for deportees. However,
with the number of illegal workers ordered deported rising, the government
recently announced it would try to work out payment deals with those
awaiting deportation or share costs with their home countries.

``I called my sister to tell her I was in Israel, but I couldn't tell her I
was in jail,'' the St. Petersburg woman said. ``My family is poor; they
can't buy me anything.''


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