Thursday, some of them went public as part of a new exhibition in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, sharing the harsh details of their experiences.
The exhibit, called “Over the Road”, focuses on the public’s approach to women as chattel. It is intended to be a harsh protest against the underground brothels that continue to flourish despite legislation banning them.
Thousands sold each year
The women say the exhibit is primarily intended to reach the customers of their former bosses - the individuals who keep the business rolling along.
Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children are sold each year. In Israel, 1,000-3,000 women are sold annually, all for the sex industry.
Volunteers from the Center to Help Foreign Workers and the Clinic for the Fight Against Women Trafficking at Hebrew University have collected many testimonies of victims of women trafficking and documented the way in which they were brought to Israel.
K., from Russia, worked on Erlinger Street in Tel Aviv. She says her boss would “fine” his workers “for everything—if I asked to have a shower between customers, if I went out without permission. At first we had enough food, but after a while it they said it was too expensive. We barely had enough soap—and during the dirtiest time of my life.”
N. says her pimp used the women for bartering. “If he wanted vegetables from the supermarket, he would ‘give’ one of the girls to a worker in exchange for the vegetables. He bartered us for food, jewelry and other things.”
Y., from Moldava, says she was forced into sado-masochism. “Customers would beat us. They had special instruments. They would drip hot wax all over my body and force me to do painful, degrading things. Of course they enjoyed it—they paid extra for it.”
One woman, also from Moldava, said she received no wages for her services. “(My boss) told me he bought me for 50,000 shekels, and that I had to ‘return’ the money (by working for free) before I could start to earn wages. They also made me pay 50 shekels a day for food and condoms”
N., from Ukraine, worked on Peretz Street in Tel Aviv, explains why women don’t run away. “We all dreamt of escaping, but they even managed to steal the dream from us after someone did leave. A week after she disappeared, her family's home in Moldava was firebombed.”
She says they were given one rest day per month: the first day of their period. “The first day we could take off. The rest of the time I was having my period, I had to use a diaphragm to prevent bleeding. But I had to continue taking customers.”
Nowhere to run
“We had nowhere to run,” says H. from Ukraine. “The door was always locked, bars on the windows, and there was a closed-circuit TV in each room.
“And even if you managed to get out—where would you go? What would you do? Several customers were police officers, and other cops would check our visas and leave. So who would we have turned to for help?