Israeli women in prostitution cycle 'dying in silence'

Latest report finds many women engaged in 'the world's oldest profession' often disappear without leaving almost any trace of their existence; 'I didn't think anyone would miss me,' says woman who tried to end her life 22 times

Hadar Gil-Ad|
"I made a vow in a trauma room at Ichilov Hospital, that if I ever get back on my feet, I would do everything I can for women who survived the cycle of prostitution. I lived among them at the Tel Aviv central bus station, and there are no words to describe the hell they go through. Most of them are already dead. I'm talking about women between the ages of 23 and 60, dying as a result of addiction that keep them in prostitution. I could never share the guilt I feel over thoughts that maybe I could have done something differently."
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  • The woman who said those words died two months ago. She was 48 years old. This article is dedicated to her and the women in the cycle of prostitution who disappear without leaving almost any trace of their existence. Transparent in their lives, and transparent in their death.
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    נועה (שם בדוי)
    נועה (שם בדוי)
    Noa (alias) who has been caught up in prostitution
    (Photo: Meir Ohayon)
    Vered, (alias), 42, a mother of four, tried to end her life 22 times in the 13 years that she spent being part of the cycle of prostitution. "I didn't think anyone would miss me," she says.
    "I felt that it was enough, that I didn't want this anymore. How much more will they touch me, sell me, and do what they want to me. I've suffered violence from clients, many times. It is like being raped, because your mind says no but you do it anyway. Now I know that if I have to go back to prostitution again, I will kill myself. I would rather die than go back," she says.
    The first time she had sex for money was when she was just 18. "I needed money to pay for an abortion. A few years later, I was raped, and that's where it all started to go downhill," she says.
    "I found myself on the streets, nowhere to live, my children were taken from me, and in the end, I returned to prostitution," she says.
    Soon enough, drugs also became a problem. Vered claims they are an integral part of the job.
    "You can't work in prostitution without them," she says. "That is how you survive the fact that you have to let a stranger touch you and your body and do things you don't want to do, so that you can have money for rent and food. All I remember from prostitution is just pain. You are being abused, cursed, and you suffer both physical and mental violence, and they treat you like an object while making it clear that this is all you are worth," Vered says.
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    ארה"ב משבר סמים אופיואידים
    ארה"ב משבר סמים אופיואידים
    Illustration of drugs
    (Photo: AP)
    Vered wished to dedicate this interview to the friends she has lost over the years.
    "Three of my friends died of an overdose," she says. "They had all suffered some sort of traumatic life event and ended up using drugs to cope with it. Society pushed them into it, and they did not get the help they needed in time. When I heard my friend had died, I almost killed myself. I knew why he did it, and it hurt deeply. He died alone because he couldn't handle this life anymore. After he died, a lot of people came to the funeral. But I asked myself, where were they when he was alive?"
    It's been five years since Vered managed to leave prostitution, but it past experiences still haunt her.
    "These have been complex years - good and bad. While I'm free and independent, it's not easy to cope - both financially and mentally," she says. 'It's hard to move on when the mind is so scarred."
    A new report by the "Lo-Omdot-Meneged," a non-profit that assists women and men caught up in the cycle of prostitution, reveals the scope of silent deaths of women involved in that profession is wide, and the phenomenon does not receive any public awareness.
    "Women in prostitution are not counted as victims of gender violence or of sexual abuse," the report says.
    "On International Women's Day, no one talks about women who are being hurt while working in prostitution, even though they are the women who are most exposed to gender violence and daily sexual harassment. We aim to make society aware of these facts and their destructive consequences for the first time," the non-profit's report adds.
    According to the report, since 2010, some 115 women died due to prostitution, eight of whom passed away in 2021. In the first month of 2022, two more women died. The average age of these women was 40.
    "The causes of death vary. Some die because of murder, suicide, a drug overdose or addiction. We cannot always determine if a woman was given an overdose on purpose or if she committed suicide or was killed. We have unsubstantiated reports from friends, but there is no official police data," the report says.
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    אישה במיטה
    אישה במיטה
    Illustration of a prostitute
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    It also describes the connection between prostitution, drugs, violence, and murder. The studies described in it, indicate that prostitution harms most women, weakening and wounding their souls, and since experiencing violence is common, it almost becomes normal.
    Another study mentioned in the report, revealed that the number of female homicides in prostitution in the United States, is higher in comparison to the number of women murdered in other circumstances.
    "Prostitution and drugs are linked together," the report says. "It cannot be definitively determined what came first, and in any case, the drug is used to numb the difficult experiences associated with prostitution. It is hard to survive a shift at a brothel without drugs," the report states.
    "Addiction to drugs causes women to be more submissive and more dependent," the report adds, "thus starting a vicious cycle of drug use and prostitution to fund the use, often through pimps, who in most cases are also the drug suppliers. It is worth noting that we have encountered women who want to stop using drugs, but in Israel, there are only a few drug rehabilitation centers for women-only, and they are usually filled to capacity," the report claims.
    The authors of the report emphasize that the data presented in it is incomplete, and was taken, among other sources, from the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, which advances legislation to reduce the consumption of prostitution in Israel, as well as testimonies from women.
    "It is safe to assume that the real numbers are much higher, but since many women are afraid to be exposed and ask for aid from the organizations and the welfare offices, we do not have any contact with them directly and therefore do not know what really happened to them," the report says.
    Noa (alias), 40, has been in the cycle of prostitution for 20 years. She is also aware of the heavy toll it has taken on her.
    "If you had spoken to me five years ago, I would have argued with you that I'm fine and suffered no trauma. But now I know better," she says. "This profession hurts you. They say temporary becomes permanent, and that is how things deteriorate."
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    They say temporary becomes permanent, and that is how things deteriorate
    Noa also had friends who died too soon. "A lot of people can't work without being under the effects of drugs and alcohol, and I know a few girls who were physically hurt because of prostitution," she says.
    "A good friend of mine passed away a few months ago, from an overdose. She wasn't even 30. They found her dead in her apartment. Another girl I know was chocked by a client. Every working girl has heard those stories. But, try to look it up on the news, I doubt you'll find anything about it, it simply doesn't interest the public," she said.
    CEO of the Lo-Omdot-Meneged Naama Goldberg, who assists women and men in the cycle of prostitution and is the co-author of the report, explains that physical and sexual trauma from prostitution, causes direct and indirect damage. Drug use, disease, and mental illness, all lead to depression, attempted suicide and premature death.
    "What's sad is that these women are never counted for, and are often forgotten. They are buried in funerals that no one attends, and their families reject them even after death."
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