Israel moves to criminalise sex work with various new measures, including push for the Nordic Model

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent
Source (institute/publication)

The Israeli Prostitution Task Force Committee’s promise to carry out ‘a large-scale offensive to root out lap dances from strip clubs’ is just one several concurrent attacks on sex workers’ rights currently being launched by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Ministers are sponsoring amendments to the law in order to criminalise ‘striptease’ under prostitution law, stating that both stripping and other sex work “perpetuate harmful and humiliating attitudes towards women and their bodies”.

In April, an attempt was made to introduce changes to law to broaden the definition of prostitution to include stripping, and to outlaw ownership of premises used for ’prostitution or stripping’. The Bill was protested by sex workers in the country and ultimately failed to pass, but the state continues to pursue the prosecution of strippers and managers under prostitution law. Earlier this year, the state petitioned to remove websites used by sex workers as part of a broad attempt to “stamp out prostitution” in Israel.

Israeli law conflates those suspected of being trafficking victims and migrant sex workers, usually resulting in people being deported or refused entry at the border. The number of deportations from Israel had subsided in recent years, but 2018 has seen an increase again – in the first 8 months of this year, 288 people were turned away at the border ”on suspicion they planned to work in prostitution” (an 87% increase compared to last year). 

In October, after parliamentary recess, the Knesset will consider a Bill proposing criminalisation of the purchase of sex, which was approved to be taken forward in August. This is the 8th year that Israel’s Knesset has considered a proposal for sex work law reform resembling the ‘Nordic Model’, which criminalises the purchase of sex. So far no version of the Bill has progressed beyond the first reading (in Israel a bill needs to pass through three readings before coming law). 

The most recent proposed legislation proposes civil penalties, instead of criminal charges, for those who attempt to purchase sexual services; the Bill proposes a fines system, with first time ‘offenders’ facing a fine of NIS 1,500 ($405). The penalty can increase to NIS 3,000 ($810) for those who repeat the offense within three years, and courts would be empowered to raise the fines to a maximum of NIS 75,300 ($20,400.) Fines would be applicable to those who pay someone for their labour when it includes the provision of sexual services. As in many countries who have the Nordic Model, Israel also plans to make it an offense to attempt to pay for sexual services regardless of whether the act or the payment actually takes place. In Northern Ireland, which criminalised the purchase of sex in 2014, saw its first prosecution under this type of law earlier last year.