By Rachael Wong
Today, Israel will become the 8th country to institute a “Nordic Model” law combating human trafficking and prostitution (the two being inextricably interlinked). Joining Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France and Ireland, Israel will make buying or attempting to buy sex illegal. The landmark law will be introduced in conjunction with public education and rehabilitation services for prostituted persons.
The Nordic Model is premised on the notion that prostitution is an act of violence and exploitation by those who purchase it. Under the model, selling prostitution will not be criminalised, the idea being that many prostitutes ended up there out of desperation and should not be afraid to come forward for help when facing abuse or in order to exit the industry.
According to the Welfare Ministry, there are currently 14,000 people involved in prostitution in Israel, including 3,000 minors, and 76% would leave the industry if they could.
From the first day she began documenting the prostitution industry, Israeli journalist Vered Lee believed that a law to criminalise buying prostitution was “the most moral answer to the hell [she] saw going on around the country”. She found that many vulnerable groups were “ensnared in the cycle of prostitution”, including “single mothers of the verge of starvation, minors at risk, asylum seekers and transgender people shunned by society.”
The new law would require police to fine those using prostitutes, but also provides therapeutic alternatives to a fine to be set out in regulations, which would “impart knowledge and increase awareness regarding the damage caused to populations in prostitution.” That these regulations have not yet been issued has been used as an excuse to delay the introduction of the law. It has also come to light that 70% of funds given to ministries to prepare for implementing the law in 2019 was not used.
However, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli have made it clear that they oppose any delay.
“The law against consuming prostitution will go into effect as planned, on July 10,” Nissenkorn tweeted. “We will apply the required solutions for rehabilitation, therapy and assistance. Israel will join a list of advanced countries that have made it clear that prostitution is an unacceptable norm that must be curbed.”
According to Attorney Dina Domenitz, head of the Justice Ministry's Human Trafficking Department, "Once the law takes effect, the era of ambivalence with regard to the phenomenon of prostitution had ended.”
"We are stating, very clearly, that women and men are not commodities that can be rented out for an hour, and their dignity and liberty cannot be dismissed. We hope that this law will help thousands of people engaged in prostitution, reduce the phenomenon of human trafficking, and also bring about real social change for women," she said.
It’s time Australia joined countries like Israel, Canada and Sweden in recognising that prostitution violently commodifies human beings, but particularly women and girls, in an industry that is rooted in gender inequality. In a country that decries violence against women, implementing the Nordic Model of prostitution law reform throughout Australia is an overdue and necessary step in protecting the rights of women and girls to live lives free of violence in our society.
Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia