March 19, 1998
The Jewish state has become a routinedestination for the global trafficking of women who are coerced intoprostitution
The young Lithuanian woman in the prison libraryhas the narrow chest, hunched shoulders and wary eyes of someone whohas known poverty and is not sure where the next blow is coming from.She talks to reporters to convince herself that she was not aprostitute, not one by choice anyway.
Her first name, which is all she will tell, isGiedre. She is 19, with lank, sandy hair, pale freckles on palecheeks, stone-washed blue jeans and a black boucle zip-up jacket.Giedre is one of 39 illegal immigrants from the old Soviet Unionawaiting deportation in Neve Tirtza women's prison near Ben-GurionAirport. Almost all of them, according to the governor, Betty Lahat,worked in Israeli brothels.
The prisoners are the tip of a multimillion-dollarracket, which recruits hundreds of women a year in Eastern Europe forwhat the Israel Women's Network brands "a modern slave trade."Criminologists estimate that about 2,000 women from Russia, Lithuaniaand Ukraine are currently working in Israel's sex industry. Manyarrive by sea, on tourist visas or cruise ships from Cyprus. Some aregenuine tourists who are kidnapped by local gangsters.
The women are bought and sold by pimps andtraffickers for prices up to $20,000. Some were promised jobs asnannies, waitresses or dancers. One woman, arrested last month inHaifa, confessed that she was a doctor who couldn't make a living inher profession back home.
Giedre, who has a Jewish father and a Christianmother, says that she came to Israel to stay with an aunt. After afamily quarrel, she moved into a cheap hotel in Herzliya, near TelAviv. One night she returned from a disco to find her room ransacked,her bag, passport and money gone.
When she went downstairs to report the theft, shewas lured outside by a Russian girl who had befriended her. Two burlymen grabbed her and bundled her into a windowless van. She was keptfor three days in a locked room of a two-story house withoutfood.
"On the third night, I was desperate," she says."I tried to break out. I shouted for help. But it was no use. Twomen, who spoke Russian with a Georgian accent, carted me off to amassage parlor. When I refused to work there, they beat me up. Theyraped me, punched my body, slapped my face. Finally, I agreed to workfor them."
Giedre was put in a room with another girl. Shehad sex with six clients a day, half an hour each. The two girlsslept and worked in the same room. There were five other girls in thebrothel. Some told Giedre that they had 15 to 20 men a day, for whichthey were paid $1,000 a month.
The Lithuanian teen-ager worked for a week butdidn't wait for a paycheck. Before dawn one day, she climbed out ofan upstairs laundry room and fled barefoot down a rope of sheets.After finding her way back to her aunt's, she was arrested foroverstaying her visa. When she can produce the money for a ticket,she will be put on the next plane out.
Another prisoner, who calls herself Russita,admits that she was a prostitute in Lithuania. Mafia agents broughther to Israel on forged papers with tales of rich pickings. One agenttook her passport on arrival. One pimp sold her to another, who madeher strip so that he could see what he was buying.
"When I asked what I'd be paid," she says, "hetold me I'd have to pay back his investment first, then I would get$100 a month. Before then, I was sold on to a third pimp, who put mein a massage parlor, where I received up to 30 men a day. They paidhim 150 shekels [about $42] each."
Russita was arrested during a police raid.Prostitution is not a crime in Israel, but she will be expelledbecause she has no papers. Like most of the Neve Tirtza girls, shearrived at the prison without money. The Lithuanian Consulate willprobably pay for her ticket home.
According to a 30-page report published at thebeginning of this year by the campaigning Israel Women's Network,most pimps are Israeli citizens, either native-born or Russianimmigrants. Police raid brothels from time to time, but the networkfound that pimps were prosecuted only in the most extreme cases. Eventhen, they usually receive light sentences. "The pimps go free," saysEfraim Ehrlich, head of the Tel Aviv vice squad. "The women go toprison."
And, like Giedre, Russita and many Natashas, theywait to go home with nothing to show for their trip to the PromisedLand.