Israel failing to stem sex-trade abuses, Amnesty says

JERUSALEM — Israel has failed to take adequate measures to stem abuses committed against foreign women who were brought here and forced to provide sexual services, Amnesty International charged in a special report.

Many of those women "have been subjected to human rights abuses such as enslavement or torture, including rape and other forms of sexual abuse, by traffickers, pimps, or others involved in Israel's sex industry," according to the report on the trafficking of women from the former Soviet Union.

The human rights organization also criticized Israel for not providing a procedure to grant asylum to women who have been smuggled into the country often on the basis of false promises of work that is not sex-related.

Fighting the trade in women and bringing foreign women here to work as prostitutes is a priority for the Israel police, but it is a very difficult phenomenon to fight, police investigations head Cmdr. Yossi Sedbon said last week.

One of the main problems is that there is no law against selling women, he explained, adding that he is aware of initiatives to pass such a law and hopes they are successful.

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin told Amnesty International representatives last week that Deputy Attorney-General Yehudit Karp is preparing an amendment to Israel's Penal Law, which would address the trafficking phenomenon and provide immunity for trafficked women. He predicted that the legislation would be presented to the Knesset at its winter session.

According to Amnesty International, hundreds of women are brought to Israel from the former Soviet Union every year. The organization said Israel is bound by international law and by international covenants that it has signed to stamp out the sex trafficking.

Police are arresting suspects on related charges such as kidnapping, pimping, raping and assaulting the women, Sedbon said.

However, the women are afraid to file police complaints and testify against the pimps, he said, since most of them are in the country illegally. Fear of reprisal by the pimps further paralyzes them. Police try to get around this both by promising to protect complainants and by initiating operations to collect evidence against brothels and raid them.

An additional complication is that prosecutors need the women who complain to testify in the court cases against the pimps, which can be months after the initial complaint is filed. Since the women are here illegally and there is a chance that the pimps will harm them if they are left to their own devices here, they have often ended up sitting in jail until the trial is completed.

Sedbon said that they now try to send the women home and bring them back here for the trial.

Statistics police released earlier this year show an increase in the number of cases opened against pimps: 279 in 1997, 370 in 1998 and 506 in 1999.

Sedbon also said that only a minority of the foreign women working here as prostitutes are kidnapped and forced into prostitution.