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The Universal Social Problem Of Prostitution

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4155 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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This paper will describe and analyze the universal social problem of prostitution among minors who had not attained 18 years of age , while focusing specifically on the way this phenomenon occurs in Israel.

Prostitution takes on many definitions; operationally defined, prostitution is a behavior that involves the exchange of sexual services for economic compensation in the form of drugs, money, or needed resources, for example, housing or food (Murphy, 2007;Williamson & Baker, 2009 Understanding the Social and Economic Contexts). In regards to minors, Dr. Anat Gur, a psychotherapist who is an expert in dealing with sexual assault victims, claims that the above definition of prostitution is less suited to minors due to the fact that it disregards the exploitive nature of the sexual relations between the minors and the adults and lacks the equality between the parties. Using the term “prostitution” only obscures the fact that minors are exploited( BOOK anat).

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According to XXX, prostitution can be classified as human trafficking finalized towards sexual exploitation. This understanding frames the prostitution phenomenon as exploitation of persons which comprises physical and psychological violence (prostitution phenomenon). The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) define human trafficking is 1. “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (p. 8 ) or 2. “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act( any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by ant person ) is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age” (p 7,8). According toXXX, the VTVPA definition of human trafficking highlights that every minor, under the age of 18 who is used in commercial sex act is a trafficking victim ( domestic trafficking).

On August 1996, the first world congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children was hosted by the Government of Sweden in collaboration with ECPAT, UNICEF and the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Israel was one of the 122 states that participated in the event. The congress acknowledged that commercial sexual exploitation of children ( under the age of 18) is a fundamental violation of the UN convention in regards to the rights of children a form of coercion and violence against them.Moreover they declared that commercial sexual exploitation is a new form of slavery given that children worldwide are not only affected by sexual abuse but are also systematically entrapped and sexually exploited for commercial purposes ( theme paper cece).

According to the protocol that was established in the congress there are three different aspects of children’s sexual exploitation : 1. Sale of children which is an act or transaction whereby a child is transferred by any person or group of persons to another for remuneration or any other consideration. 2. Child pornography which includes any representation by any means of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes 3. Child prostitution which is defined as the use of children in sexual activities for remuneration or other consideration (theme paper CSEC).

The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was signed by the State of Israel on 3 July 1990. According to the CRC Israel is required to “take appropriate action to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, including sexual abuse by parent(s), guardian(s) or caretaker(s), from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and therefore should “take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials” (convention on the Rights of the Child, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights- .אתר אינטרנט(

The scope of the problem

Although Israel is a party to the convention, according to the statistics collected in 2011 by counter-trafficking non-governmental organization, the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), more than 10% of the estimated prostitutes in Israel are minors. However, due to the hidden nature of the problem, lack of sufficient attention to the issue and the fact that this group is a difficult population to reach , there is no reliable estimates of the extent of the problem. Today, most of the prostitution activity is almost not on the streets but in locations that are closed such as, dating sites, chats, online forums, private apartments, saunas, clubs and more. The ministry of welfare believes that the scope of the problem is much wider, involving thousands of young people, under the age of 18, whom the social welfare agencies don’t even know about. Moreover, the ministry of welfare and the Ngo’s who are dealing with sexually exploited youth in Israel recorded a five-fold increase in 2011 in the number of young people working as prostitutes, though it says that some of the rise can be attributed to the group’s stepped-up efforts to find victims of prostitution. Another reason that is attributed to the rise is the fact that much of the activities have moved to the Internet and on-line chat rooms. According to xxx, traffickers advertise children online for sexual purposes through hundreds of Web sites, and in addition they search for victims through social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.


According to xxx, women and girls are the predominate victims of the sex industry ( yale). Within Israel, estimates reporting the gender breakdown of commercially sexually exploited youth vary; however, the most recent data indicates that 75% of minors who are involved in prostitution are women who come from all strata of society, another 20 percent are boys and the remaining 5 percent are transgender (NGO says teenage prostitution worsening in Israel- internet). Statistics released in 2011 by the Prime Minister’s Office indicate that most of those working in prostitution start their careers at the age of 13 or 14 however, there are many cases in which prostitution begins at 12 or even 11. Studies have found that at least 70% of adult women who are involved in prostitution entered the commercial sex industry during their adolescent years ( how do female adolescents cope).

Teenage prostitution within a socio-political-economic context

Prostitution is a complex behavior which is influenced by multiple life circumstances. Researches have found that there are several categories of risk factors which influence and contribute to a teenage decision to engage in prostitution. Moreover, in order to understand the social phenomenon, it is important to understand the integration and the connection of the factors and not place much importance on any one particular factor ( anat gur, A Descriptive Study on Sexually Exploited Children).

According to xxx, youth often begin practicing prostitution after experiencing severe distress, a physically, sexually and emotionally abusive environment, a bad experience of rejection and severe neglect. ( street prostitution). One of the risk factors is family influence. Dysfunctional families – parental neglect, family substance abuse, family violence, low parental supervision and high levels of parental absence- contribute to motivating an adolescent to enter into prostitution.( factors that are related to prostitution).Researchers have shown that most of the teenagers who engage in prostitution ran away from home, often to escape from their abusive environments and from family situations that were intolerable( gur 32, pg 34). According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, up to 77% of teens involved with prostitution report running away from home at least once before turning to prostitution (Flowers, 2001-prostitution teen, more than a )Others are thrown away from home, those youth who are forced to leave home or who are not actively sought after when they do leave home. Thus, many of these youth become homeless, who have no stable place of residence, where they can feel secure and safe. They live on the streets in states of extreme detachment, risk and distress are more prone to engage in delinquent behaviors and increase their chance of being exploited and recruited into prostitution ( yale) . Early childhood sexual abuse is another risk factor . It includes being raped, being touched sexually, being forced to touch another sexually, being exposed to or forced to participate in pornography,and being forced to have sex with another person. The most common perpetrator of early childhood sexual abuse is a father or another male family member, although abuse by teachers, child care workers, family friends, religious leaders, and neighbors has been reported (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002 in street prostitution). Researches have found that more than 90% of women who are engaged in prostitution were sexually abused earlier in childhood.(street prostitution) Dr. Anat gur, a psychotherapist who is an expert in dealing with sexual assault victims, claims that from her clinical experience all women who are prostitutes have been sexually abused. The sexual abuse damages self perception, leaving the adolescent vulnerable to negative outcomes due to the psychological and emotional problems caused by the abuse and therefore unable to defend against exploitation ( street prostitution). Another factor is economic hardship- Many of these youth are likely to come from low socio-economic backgrounds, thus having experienced poverty and have been involved with the child welfare system (yale). A child whose family is living in extreme poverty and who is needed by his or her family to make money is also at an increased risk . (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2002). Moreover, the ‘consumer society’ and the shift in values and on the other hand the worsening in the economic situation, pushes children to an ‘easy solution’ like selling their bodies in order to consume goods (ecpatwc) It is important to indicate that the assumption is that poverty alone does not cause teenagers to engage in prostitution. It is the combination between poverty, and other factors that manifests the phenomenon ( gur 40- 59). Delinquency and school problems is another risk factor of teenage prostitution. Prostituted youth were reported of having been engaged in a variety of acts of delinquency including drug use ,gang involvement and violent behavior. One of the central questions in the literature is what came first: the use of drugs or prostitution. Several studies have found that the use of drugs preceded the prostitution. For many women, prostitution is the main mean to fund their drugs. According to xxx, as the age of the woman who begins to use drugs is younger, the greater the danger of engaging in prostitution.( book 35). In addition children who have been expelled from school or are no longer interested in pursuing an education are at a high risk for becoming involved in prostitution (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2002). This might be due to the fact that they feel less bonded to the social system and may develop feelings of alienation, frustration, and lowered self-esteem after experiencing failure and rejection( factors that are related to prostitution). The last factor is the relationship with the pimp. The girls who run away from home are usually very vulnerable, hurt, seek for attention and company. The pimps take advantage of the situation and by grooming, giving gifts and compliments and offering her the “love” and attention” that she never received at home, gains the girl’s initial loyalty and trust( yale, gur, domestic).

In order to understand how the different risk factors are interrelated and contribute to the phenomenon of teen prostitution in the context of Israel, it is important to place the problem within a socio-political-economic framework. In order for a phenomenon to exist and flourish, there must be a demand for it. According to xxx, the reason that commercial sexual exploitation of children worldwide exist is due to the fact that countries, where this social phenomenon exist, maintain a “culture of tolerance” that supports sex trafficking markets ( domestic minor sex).

Prostitution is perceived by society as despicable, immoral and dirty. Teenagers, girls and boys, who engage in prostitution, are seen as offenders or delinquents, due to their illegal activities, and not as victims who are dealing with abuse and despair and are being sexually exploited and socially compartmentalized(yale). With no attempt to reduce demand, there is a constant incentive for criminal bodies to provide the supply(Gili Varon, Task Force onHuman Trafficking). According to the report of the Knesset’s research and information center (2011), to date, the responsible ministries of Israel have not presented any unique plan to deal with minors who are prone to commercial sexual exploitation. Specifically, the ministry of welfare has no special department or unit which is in charge of dealing with youth who are engaged in prostitution. Moreover the report indicates that in the past ten years there was not enough public interest in this phenomenon which affected on the law enforcement efforts to address the problem. Many cases were closed by the police and the “clients” were not punished, due to lack of evidence or lack of public interest ( Knesset’s research and information center report). On the one hand, society pushes the teen prostitution phenomenon to the social margins and on the other hand the society uses and exploits this vulnerable population.. Israel, that signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), fails to allocate resources to deal with a social problem, that is becoming bigger every year but on the other hand does not have the tolerance and indifference to explicitly acknowledge the coercive nature of prostitution and the fact that the minors who engage in prostitution are victims to an exploitive industry. The absence of policy implementation regarding the treatment of youth involved in prostitution by law enforcement and child protective services in addition to the fact that there are inadequacy of services available for youth involved in prostitution contributes to the preservation and maintenance of the problem.

Values and teenage prostitution

Reasons that try to explain why sexual violence occurs and is tolerated, encouraged and commercialized are complex however, they are always built on” the mirage of distorted values, inequality and self interest (Ecpat iii). When addressing the social problem of teen prostitution, there is a universal agreement that commercial sexual exploitation of children ( under the age of 18) is a fundamental violation of the UN convention in regards to the rights of children) Israeli report). Prostitution has been viewed as a “moral” or “ethical” problem which is unacceptable per societal values however; society seldom pays attention to the age of those involved ( domestic minor sex). There has been a debate whether to view youth who are involved in prostitution as criminals or as victims of abuse (Ayre & Barrett, 2000-ת×-×”). The way society defines the problem stems from the competing perceptions , which are rooted in societies values, of the youth as victims under the control of adults or other circumstances or as criminals who make a willing choice to commit a crime (U.S. Department of Justice, 2004ת×-×”). Throughout my research , I found that there are many different terminologies to describe the same problem : teenage prostitution, commercial exploited teenagers, youth involved in prostitution .Each definition reflects values and beliefs. In Israel, in most of the newspaper articles I have read, the problem is defined as ” youth who are involved in prostitution”. I believe that this definition reflects societies belief that they are “criminals” rather than “victims”. Moreover it implies that they are involved in illegal activities and therefore should bare the consequences.

Another reason why society does not recognize exploited girls as victims and therefore does not progress to a better solution to the problem is related to societies social norms and values regarding girl’s and boy’s sexuality ( yale). Many western societies regard “good girls” as girls who need to avoid sexual intercourse ( in contrast to boys) and that if they are worthy for protection they would not accept any payment for their own exploitation ( yale 19). Moreover, society believes that if “girls were truly victimized, they would quickly acquiesce to and cooperate with authorities once encountered” (yale 19). This, nevertheless, ignores the coercive forces that cause girls not to trust the law enforcement and social services.

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Another example that demonstrates how society’s values are reflected in the way teen prostitution is defined is related to societal values which accept the devaluation and objectification of girls as valid cultural expressions (Ekberg, 2004, אינטר). Values are an integral and fundamental stone in every social structure. In a society that accepts values which view women and children, mostly girls, as economic commodities, that can be bought, sold, and sexually exploited by men, girls who are involved in prostitution are seen as criminals who are breaking the law, and men who engage with those girls are not always punished and in most cases the legal files are closed.

In the International Convention for the suppression of human trafficking and exploitation of Others( 1949), it is stated that “prostitution and the accompanying evil, human trafficking for prostitution are incompatible with human dignity and values of people and endanger the welfare of the individual, family and communities.”( מאמר 4). Israel’s failure to recognize commercially exploited youth as victims who entered into prostitution, not always as a matter of choice but as an unwitting endpoint in a cycle of abuse and despair, reflect the way women and girls are viewed and devalued. Moreover, according to the Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (1999), one of the core values that need to be embraced by social workers and are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose is dignity and worth of the person. Personally, I believe that Israel’s society , which is reflected in the social -political agenda, has a long way to go until it will be able to embrace and implement the core value of dignity and worth of the person in it’s policy and law enforcement. By not addressing properly this significant social phenomenon, it is a violation to the human dignity that was guaranteed in the UN Declaration on Human Rights 1949. The human dignity and self worth of the vulnerable population who are involved in prostitution needs to be restored and enhanced by ensuring that they receive the services they desperately need.

Solutions to the problem in Israel ( All the information in this section is taken from the report of the Knesset’s research and information center (2011)),

Israel lacks a central government agency responsible for identifying and treating commercial exploited youth. In 1997, one of the recommendations of the inter- ministerial committee which was established to examine the commercial exploitation of minors, was to develop and operate a unique program that would focus on commercial sexual exploitation of youth in Israel. Since then, nothing has been done. Today, Israel’s social services do not do active reaching out operations of youth who are involved in prostitution. The Ministry of welfare supports the funding of Ngo’s that are involved in reaching out activities that locate minors in the prostitution arenas, however, they operate only in two cities in Israel. The Ministry of welfare does support some services such as out of the house placements, shelters and residential homes, all of whom have waiting lists of a few months. The services that are provided are only for girls working as prostitutes but not boys or transgender youth.

The Education system has an important role in preventing the phenomenon and identifying commercial sexually exploited minors. This office deals with formulating policy, developing prevention programs and treatment plans and is in charge to implement them among students, professional staff and education teams so they could identify and locate suspected abused or maltreated students as early as possible. According to the report (2011), 70% of the schools in Israel organize school activities that focus on the prevention of sexual abuse.

The main organizations that treats youth ( girls and boys) who are involved in prostitution are the Ngo’s. There are a few Ngo’s that are specific for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) adolescents who have been rejected and alienated because of their sexual orientation. Dror for example is designed to meet the needs of out-of-home GLBT youth in Israel, which is operated by governmental organizations.

The only organization that works with all youth population( girls, boys and GLBT) and focuses, besides other activities, on youth involved in prostitution is Elem. Elem (Youth in distress in Israel) is a nonprofit child welfare organization that was founded in 1981. Their aim is to address the problems of youth at various stages of risk, assisting them in paving their way towards reintegration into the community. The staff are professional psychologists, social workers, administrative staff, and volunteers Erim Balayla” ( translation- being awake at night) is a project that attempts to reach out to these youth, identify the boys and girls that are involved in prostitution and reduce the harm caused to them by their occupation (exposure to violence, addictions, mental problems). The activities take palce at various night clubs, on the street and on the internet. In addition, there is a personal rehabilitative program that its mission is to pave the way to reintegration into the community. Emphasis is placed on providing them with a feeling of belonging, being accepted unconditionally and educating them for more personal responsibility.

Personally I think that Erim Balayla is an effective program that not only helps to reintegrate the youth but also teaches and educates about this phenomenon. However, this vibrant project operates only in two cities in Israel, Tel-Aviv and Haifa. In the other 75 cities, the project does not exist but the phenomenon does.


What solutions would you propose and why

The feminist approach sees the social phenomenon of prostitution as an integral and fundamental layer of the patriarchal social structure in Israel, which includes violence and exploitation of women who are part of it. Moreover, this phenomenon serves and maintains the existing social structure, in part, due to the economic interests which are derived from the fortune that is produced from the local and global commercial sexual exploitation of women and minors.

In regards to minors, experts have begun to refer to the commercial sexual abuse of children through buying, selling or trading their sexual services as “domestic minor sex trafficking” or DMST ( domestic minor) .According to the FBI, in the US, DMST is one of the most unobserved and under investigated form of child sexual abuse facing the American society and therefore the statistics in regards to the prevalence of this social problem are far from being accurate ( yale law).


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