Human trafficking is a grave phenomenon of uncertain scope, but it is severe enough to trouble the world. It is believed that millions of men, women, and children are moved from one country to another each year, usually from a poor country to a wealthy one, in return for various sums and for various purposes, including forced labor and working in the sex industry. This criminal "industry" amounts to billions of dollars annually.
This illegal income also exists in Israel. An entire "industry" has developed in Israel of trading in women for sexual exploitation, including smuggling, captivity, exploitation, and extortion. Previous estimates by professional sources of this Israel industry were $1 billion annually.
Following the growth of this questionable phenomenon, the law enforcement authorities in Israel several years ago announced an aggressive and focused struggle against human trafficking: children, women, and men. Today, a report by the US Department of State for 2018 confirms that this struggle appears to be working. The report rates Israel in the top rank of countries for eighth straight year, the Israel Ministry of Justice announced.
Stable at the top
The report, which reviews efforts by the world's countries to counter human trafficking, has been published yearly since 2001. It assigns the world's countries to three groups according to the efforts they make to shut down human trafficking. In the past, for more than a decade, Israel had a low rating. A country rated in the third and lowest level whose efforts have been found to be inadequate is liable to be subject to economic sanctions by the US.
Israel was first rated in the top group of countries meeting minimal standards in the battle against human trafficking and making efforts to counter the phenomenon in 2012. Israel has since maintained this achievement, even though several western countries lost their top ranking this year, including Germany, Italy, and Denmark. The top group contains only 33 countries.
According to the report published last year, Israel takes determined action in three main areas: preventing human trafficking, enforcement against criminals, and protecting victims of the crime. The report states that 59 new victims of trafficking and slavery were identified by the state in 2018, of whom 41 were women and 18 men, including five male victims of slavery. The report states that 139 criminal investigations were begun in Israel and 22 indictments were filed for crimes relating to human trafficking: 13 for crimes relating to trafficking for purposes of prostitution, two for slavery and forced labor, and seven for prostitution of minors.
The US report also states that Israel recently filed three indictments against employers for violation of children's rights, and investigated two cases of involvement by state employees in crimes relating to trafficking and exploitation.
The indictments filed last year included one filed in December 2018 accusing two Israelis aged 26 and 36 of managing a criminal organization that trafficked in women from the former Soviet Union, persuaded them to come to Israel, made them prostitutes, and laundered the profits from the services they provided.
The indictment also states that the two men operated a carefully organized system, with division of responsibility and spheres of activity, drivers for transporting the women to apartments where they provided prostitution service, operations managers, real estate agents, operation of websites, transfer of funds using concealed channels, etc.
According to the indictment, as part of this organized criminal framework, the women brought from overseas for purposes of prostitution were frequency replaced, with at least two or three women a month being brought to Israel. NIS 700-800 per hour was charged for prostitution services. Half of this sum was kept by the woman who provided the service, with the rest going to the organization's members. The heads of the organization did not report the revenue to the Israel Tax Authority; they laundered the money in various ways.
Another indictment filed over the past year against seven people accused of managing a network for trafficking in women alleged that starting in April 2018, the seven accused brought women from the former Soviet Union in order to employ them in brothels and apartments of prostitution in Jerusalem and Haifa. The indictment states that the accused had connection in Russia and Ukraine who enticed the women and sent them to Israel. In return, the accused paid "user fees" of $200-250 per woman per week. The women charged their customers NIS 400 per act of prostitution. Half of the money was retained by the accused.
In another case in which an indictment was filed this year for human trafficking following an investigation by the central unit of the Tel Aviv police department, over NIS 4.5 million was seized from those suspected of trafficking, tax offenses, and money laundering. The indictment attributes to them a similar amount of income resulting mainly from trafficking offenses.
These indictments and others like them provide a glimpse at the world of human trafficking in Israel, but this appears to be tip of the iceberg in human trafficking. These indictments indicate that while human traffickers made hundreds of millions of shekels in profits, the women and men in whom they trafficked were entrapped by poverty and inability to "redeem" their freedom and escape the harsh cycle of exploitation.
Ministry of Justice director general Adv. Emi Palmor, who heads a committee of directors general for the struggle against human trafficking, said, "The unit that coordinates the struggle against human trafficking in the Ministry of Justice is continuing this year to lead the use of integrated tools and the state's authority in the various spheres in the struggle against the phenomenon of human trafficking.
"There is a good reason why Israel is on the highest level of the US State Department's report for the eighth straight year. The coordination unit will continue advancing Israel's efforts in this area, and preserving its clear achievements, while coping with new patterns of human trafficking in all of its forms in Israel."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 30, 2019
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