Israel's Sex Trafficking Crisis

The BBC researches a story about a young girl "Marina." Marina rarely leaves her two-room home in northern Israel these days.

She is in hiding - wanted by the Israeli authorities for being an illegal immigrant, and by the criminal gangs who brought her here to sell her into prostitution.

Marina - not her real name - was lured to Israel by human traffickers.

During the height of the phenomenon, from the beginning of the 1990s to the early years of 2000, an estimated 3,000 women a year were brought to Israel on the false promise of jobs and a better way of life.

"When I was in the Ukraine, I had a difficult life," said Marina, who came to Israel in 1999 at the age of 33 after answering a newspaper advertisement offering the opportunity to study abroad.

"I was taken to an apartment in Ashkelon, and other women there told me I was now in prostitution. I became hysterical, but a guy starting hitting me and then others there raped me.

"I was then taken to a place where they sold me - just sold me!" she said, recalling how she was locked in a windowless basement for a month, drank water from a toilet and was deprived of food.

That part of her ordeal only ended when she managed to escape, but the physical and mental scars remain.

Last year, the United Nations named Israel as one of the main destinations in the world for trafficked women; it has also consistently appeared as an offender in the annual US State Department's Trafficking in Persons (Tip) report.

While this year's report said Israel was making "significant efforts" to eliminate trafficking, it said it still does not "fully comply with the minimum standards" to do so.

Like Marina, some trafficked women are brought into the country legally, while others are smuggled by Bedouins across the border from Egypt.

In all cases, the traffickers - as many as 20 in the chain from recruitment to sale - take away the women's passports before selling them on to pimps.

Sometimes the women are subjected to degrading human auctions, where they are stripped, examined and sold for $8,000-$10,000.

Sanctions threat

Prostitution in Israel is legal, but pimping and maintaining a brothel are not.

The law however is not widely enforced and few brothels are closed down.

In Tel Aviv's Neve Shaanan district for instance, just a short walk from the city's five-star tourist hotels, brothels masquerading as massage parlors, saunas and even internet cafes, fill the streets.

One such place even operates opposite the local police station.

There are bars on windows and heavily-built men guard the doors, which are only opened to let customers in and out.

Inside, groups of sullen-looking women sit in dimly-lit rooms, waiting for their next client.

Foreign women fetch the highest prices, with trafficked women forced to work up to 18 hours a day.

For years, the absence of anti-trafficking laws in Israel meant such activity - less risky and often more profitable than trafficking drugs or arms - went unchecked.

"During the first 10 years of trafficking, Israel did absolutely nothing," said Nomi Levenkron, of the Migrant Workers' Hotline, an NGO which helps trafficked women and puts pressure on the state to act.

"Women were trafficked into Israel - the first case we uncovered was in 1992 - and not much really happened," she said.

"Occasionally traffickers were brought to trial, but the victims were arrested as well, they were forced to testify, and then they were deported."

In 2000, trafficking for sexual exploitation was made a crime but the punishments were light and its implementation was poor, NGOs say.

It was only after repeated criticism of Israel by the United States - and the threat of sanctions - that authorities began to act.

Investigations into suspected traffickers increased, stiff jail terms were handed down and Israel's borders were tightened against people smuggling.

Changing tactics

Campaigners say things began to change for the better in 2004, when the government opened a shelter in north Tel Aviv for women who had been trafficked for sex.

It marked a change in the way the state perceived them - as victims of a crime rather than accomplices.

There are some 30 women at the Maggan shelter - most from former Soviet states, but also five from China.

"When they come here they are in a bad condition," said Rinat Davidovich, the shelter's director.

"Most have sexual diseases and some have hepatitis and even tuberculosis. They also have problems going to sleep because they remember what used to happen to them at night," she said.

"It's very hard and it's a long procedure to start to help and treat them."

Police say their actions have led to a significant drop in the number of women now being trafficked into Israel for sex - hundreds, rather than thousands, a year - and they say the women's working environment has improved too.

"There is a significant change in the conditions that the women are being held in," said anti-trafficking police chief Raanan Caspi.

"In 2003 we used to find women who were being raped, incarcerated and suffering violence. In 2007, the situation is completely different - they get paid in most cases and the conditions that they're in are much more humane."

But the true picture might not be so clear-cut.

Campaigners say increased police activity has also had an adverse effect. Instead of operating openly in brothels, traffickers have become more discreet, playing their trade in private apartments and escort agencies, making the practice more difficult to detect.

"We've been keeping tabs on trends, in terms of, for instance, prices of exploitative services," said Yedida Wolfe, of the Task Force on Human Trafficking.

"Those prices have not gone up, which leads us to believe that the supply of victims has gone down."

"While government officials are saying that their efforts have drastically cut the number of victims in the country, the NGOs on the scene really don't feel that's true."

Israel might well have turned a corner in its fight against the traffickers, but the battle is far from won.



Last night was another great night out in Compton (Lynwood). It was Daryl, Laurie, Ty, Sarah, Naomie and myself. It was really really cold so I was uncertain of how many girls we were actually going to see. By the end of the night we were able to meet up with 7 different girls, some guys and a couple cops. They were all out pretty early and then everyone disappeared so we got out of there around 5:00a.
Right when we got there, Sarah and I saw several girls across the street so we ran over to chat with them. One beautiful young girl named T said she would love a gift bag and then said, “are you handing our prayers tonight”? OF COURSE! While we were talking to her two other women came up. We gave them bags and asked if they wanted to join us in praying. They didn’t want to share their names but God knows their name. The five of us huddled up and prayed together for protection, peace and provision.
As Sarah and I crossed the street again we came across a 17-year old girl named M. She told us she has only been on the street for ONE WEEK! Of course we were curious what drove her to this and why she was out here, “I ain’t got nobody but myself and the street right now. I just gotta make a way.” It is so difficult when you run into girls time and time again with such a lack of options – or what they feel is a lack of options. It is wonderful to be able to enter in and provide some resources should they choose to take them. We chatted with her a bit more about being out there and her pimp. She talked to us about one pimp L that we have actually met before that is crazy. He will just pull over on the side of the road get out and yell or grab the girls. She was pretty surprised we had talked with him before “was he pimpin’ you?” No, we just had a nice conversation when he was pulled over to the side of the road. We didn’t see him last night – but will keep our eyes open in the next couple of weeks. M didn’t want a bag but said she would like some prayer so the three of us huddled up and prayed for M to find the provision she needs to be able to stop doing this. That God would bring some people into her life that could speak wisdom into her, provide for her and truly love her.
Pretty soon after our conversation with M some cops pulled up next to us, “what’s going on here?” I guess it is pretty strange to see a group just walking around at 3:30 in the morning. Laurie was the one to go over to the car and talk to the two officers about why we were out here. One of them ended up being a Christian as well so started letting us know where the transvestites were as well as some of the pimps and what kind of car they drive. After about a 10 min. conversation they went on their way and we began out walk down the street.
We split up into two groups since there were six of us. Daryl, Sarah and I crossed the street again to see what girls we might run into. Not too far down the street we caught up with T and Tt. T I had seen several weeks ago but had not been out lately. She told us she has been in jail for the last couple of weeks and could really use some prayer. “I guess prayer doesn’t keep you out of jail. But while I was there I decided I needed to go to church so I just went ANYWHERE and after I went I got out the next day.” It was good to catch up with her a bit and be able to pray for her. Tt didn’t want a bag either but chatted with us a bit about why we were out there. “You all rollin’ 6 deep – I bet there are even more of you we don’t see!”
After that we waked around for a little while longer and after seeing no girls decided to hop in the car and drive down the strip. We didn’t see anymore girls out – everyone had disappeared – so we decided to head back to Hollywood.
Although we did not run into too many girls it was still a great night out. I love seeing the same girls week after week and continuing to build that foundation they need to truly trust you and talk to you about where they are at. Just two weeks ago (which I forgot to every write about) I ran into P again. As soon as she saw me she said, “There’s my girl! How you been?” I gave her a big hug and asked how she had been the last week. She then proceeded to tell me her real name rather than her street name and we had a great time of catching up.
God’s moving – sometimes slower than I would like – but I am so thankful he lets me be a small part of it!


For Richer or Poorer

This was written by a beautiful young lady, Karlynn, after her first experience in Nepal. She went as one of my students the summer of 2002.


I am an American, my fellow American’s wouldn’t consider me wealthy, but at my current resident, I am of great prestige. I’ve always wanted that. Unfortunately, here in Nepal, money has a stench greater than the lack of.
A dark salesman tries to teach me a lesson. He waves his product and renders me guilty for not purchasing.
A flock of Tibetan women wave their thick heavily jeweled hands and flail their sharply accented English in a mad attempt to make the almighty buck.
A heard of children tug on my clothing “you have sweet?” Their soiled mouths cry out. I didn’t ask for this!
This was not in the brochure! I…I…didn’t ask for…for a lesson. Suddenly, I’m vowed to poverty, and it only cost me three easy payments of $999.99 and my youth pastors signature!
My windy weeps of worthless unwillingness register whining. “Oh Poor Me! Oh pity me! My pain is so great and that of the unbearable.”
OR sometimes I am too quick to judge. “I would never cheat stupid Americans out of their money.
OR I would teach my children manners.
OR I would be reluctant to…
Or – Or – Or…
I saw a starving child today. Not a poor dirty child, but a starving child. His little belly hung like that of a bloated pregnant woman’s. His face was crusted with sickness. His eyes were yellow, his fingernails were speckled. An urgency to get this kid some food came over me. But you can’t give a starving child blow pops and fruit snacks.
I found myself disgusted wit his mother. Why wasn’t she getting work? How did she get cigarettes but not food? Where is her husband?
But I’ve never had to survive the off-season, when tourism is low and rains are high. I’ve never had to sell cheap jewelry. I’ve never had to decide between cigarettes and food.
I didn’t ask for this! I didn’t want to learn a lesson! Not this lesson! I didn’t ask to get this knowledge – I didn’t know what I was trading!
And when I get back to my hometown, I’ll use this little trick I learned.
“Madame, Madame? You remember me? I have something for you. Come look. Looking free. We swap, yes?”
You give me your ignorance, and I’ll finally be rid of this knowledge.


Open My Heart

Father open, open up my heart
This tender part of me – I don’t think can stand another break
But Father, open, open up my heart
Bring some people in that can help me grow again

If pain is a part of this, I just might quit, it might be too hard
That will just enforce my self-reliance upon you.
I don’t need anyone else to help me though

The times that I’ve been wounded are the times I’ve trusted most
I don’t know what you think you were teaching me
I only drew in further to my cocoon

It’s just a lot easier to give love than to receive it
Cause then I get to be the stronger one.
I open up someone else’s heart and learn to listen well
There’s much less chance of hurting if my mouth just stays shut

Father open, open up my heart
I beg you to come in and restore this flesh again
So Father, open, open up my heart
Abuse it if it helps – just know I might walk away again


An investigation into a Europe-wide child pornography network has led to 92 arrests across eight countries, prosecutors say

This was a report from a BBC article that came out today.

The network made videos of children being abused and sold them to 2,500 customers in 19 countries, says the European police force, Europol.

The films were mainly produced in Ukraine, Belgium and the Netherlands, and most of the victims were Ukrainian.

More than 40 of the arrests were made in Britain, European prosecutors say.

Police have seized thousands of computers, videos and photographs in their investigation - code named Operation Koala.

The investigation began in July 2006, when police in Australia found a video on the internet showing an adult abusing two young girls.

The girls were identified by police in Belgium and the offender, their father, was arrested.

He in turn led investigators to the producer of the video, an Italian man who operated in Belgium and the Netherlands but also owned a studio in Ukraine.

'Tailor made'

The names of 2,500 customers were recovered from his computer.

An analyst for Europol, Menno Hagemeijer, said the customers came from many different countries and all walks of life.

"We have identified schoolteachers, swimming instructors, lawyers, IT specialists," he said.

Mr Hagemeijer said the videos had been "tailor made", with customers ordering specific acts to be performed by specific children.

Twenty-three children aged between nine and 16 who were shown being abused have been identified. Twenty-one are from Ukraine and two from Belgium.

European prosecutors have stressed that the operation is continuing and there are likely to be further arrests.


Outreach This Weekend

I went on outreach with Pimps and Prostitutes again this weekend– and it was great…again. Laurie always does such great write-up’s of our evenings out. I should just copy and paste her summaries…I practically do that anyway…but I do make a few changes, add some of my thoughts – put in some thoughts from my point of view. So, here’s the happenings of this weekend ☺

This weekend it was just myself, Ty, Daryl and Laurie. The evening started out with a stop at the 7-11 for some coffee…and I got BLUEBERRY! That’s right. I didn’t even know they made blueberry coffee but they do. Laurie and I both got it and it was actually goooood!

We went to Compton again - and when we got there, we once again saw several cops patrolling (never a good sign for outreach) so the streets were pretty barren. As we pulled over we saw one highway patrol car pulled over talking to girl on a street corner. Once they had finished talking the girl disappeared down the street.

We parked anyway, grabbed some gift bags and started down the street...right away we saw two girls. Laurie and I walked up to chat with them - their names were 'P' and 'A'. A said she'd been prostituting for about 2 years – she didn’t have a pimp because she has a 10 year old son at home and can’t afford to have any of her money going to a dude. She ran into some 'bad times' a couple years back so she moved out her to LA and started prostituting. A is beautiful!!

P asked us what church we were from – I told her that we weren’t really out here representing any particular church but that I go to Ecclesia. She then proceeded to say, "You go to church and you have a piercing?" pointing at my nose ring. I laughed and proceeded to tell her about my tattoos and the fact that Laurie had even more piercings and tattoos then I have!! P seemed surprised. As Laurie said, I wish we would have had more of an opportunity to share the difference between religion and relationship but the girls were in a hurry to leave after one of them got a phone call. They thanked us for the purses and goodies we gave them.

After walking down the street a bit more Laurie began to turn a corner and I could not figure out why but then we saw another girl…sometimes I was so BAD at spotting people late at night ☺ “D” was hesitant to take anything from us or really talk to us much - and then her pimp drove by us and she said, "Oh no - my daddy just drove by - he's gonna kick my ass." She said that she had to go - and we let her go - and just prayed after she left - that her pimp wouldn't harm her. I am going to be honest that it still really frustrates me and I don’t really get it why pimps won’t let their girls talk to other people on the street. I mean…I guess when I really think about it the whole reason we are out there is to give these girls a way OUT – so I guess the pimps would not really want them talking to us. But that just seems so oppressive and constraining. It really frustrates me.

We got back in the car and decided to drive up and down the strip a bit more trying to see if we could find any more girls. After driving only a little while I spotted Y – the 17-year-old girl I told you about last time! So we pulled over and parked. We went to talk to Y and another girl but hardly got a few words out before a black SUV with nice rims turned the corner, parked and two guys got out. By the looks of it - Laurie assumed that the guys were pimps (I am still so new at this, I had no clue! – I could just tell that Y and her friend were NOT excited to see them!) As they got closer, however, Laurie thought they might be gangbangers…She got excited – she has a real heart for gangbangers. So we went across the street – partly because we wanted to talk to these guys and find out what they were all about, but also because we wanted to intercept (distract) them before they started meeting with Y and her friend who were now trying to dart across traffic in their heels to get away from them.

Laurie and I went over and began talking to them. The rest of our evening pretty much was spent talking to them. It was actually a pretty hilarious scene. “J” as he called himself and Laurie were comparing gunshot scars. J kept insisting that he believed in “God, Jesus Christ and the virgin Mary and prayed to them in the shower, driving, taking a shit, all the time – you don’t even know” J was pretty drunk and kept repeating himself. He also could not figure out why we were out there. He kept “hugging” Daryl which later Daryl said that he thinks that he was just patting them down - to make sure they weren't cops or something. Daryl said that he felt the small of Daryl's back and sides looking for a gun or something…

He kept asking us "Are you for real, homie? Are you for real?" He asked that probably 172893719874328170348 times. He ended up bringing Laurie $20 from his car and saying he wanted to donate that to the ministry for Bibles or whatever they needed it for. "No man - I want to give you guys this - because - are you guys for real, man? Because I mean, you guys are coming out here, to Compton - risking your lives – nobody does that - you're coming out here for nothing - I mean, not for nothing - but man - you guys are real, huh?" Haah! He said that he was being a hypocrite right then cause he was about to go and get even more drunk and he did not live a very Christian lifestyle but he thought was we were doing was great.

He finally let Laurie pray for him after a while. Afterwards he began commenting, "You guys are for real, huh - man - I need someone to check on me - to call me and talk to me..." Laurie gave him her number and after MANY tries, got his number - he was so drunk he couldn't get his number right - finally I grabbed his phone and got the number and then entered Laurie’s into his.

The rest of our time in Compton was pretty much spent with these two guys with the exception of one girl “J” that I got to talk to for just a brief moment. I saw her so I ran across the street with a couple of bags to see if she wanted one. She was hesitant to take one and in the end refused. She said she has only been prostituting for two WEEKS. Didn’t really have a good reason why and was pretty apathetic about the whole thing.

I really love doing this outreach – but it is also very difficult. It is tough having to meet up with the same girls week after week and not be able to take them out of these situations. But God is faithful – and I believe that these women need to know pure unconditional human love before they will be able to experience or truly know the love of the divine.


Sri Lanka has promised to look into allegations that 108 of its UN peacekeepers in Haiti paid for sex, in some cases with underage girls

I just found this article on the BBC News this morning - disturbing.


The men are being sent home after being accused of sexual misconduct and abuse.

Officials say the law will take its course once the soldiers arrive back in Sri Lanka, but warn that little tangible evidence has been produced.

In the past, UN peacekeepers have been involved in a series of sex scandals, including this year in Ivory Coast.

'Zero tolerance'

Sri Lanka has sent four senior officers, including a female brigadier, to Haiti to investigate.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary, Dr Palitha Kohona, said the allegations against the soldiers were a blight on what he described as the country's stunningly good record in United Nations peacekeeping.

He added though that little tangible evidence had been provided by the United Nations, which might make it difficult to bring them before a court.

The UN mission in Haiti has requested an immediate investigation by the organization's internal watchdog.

The UN has a "zero tolerance" policy on peacekeepers visiting prostitutes, regardless of local laws.

Spokeswoman Michele Montas said: "The United Nations and the Sri Lankan government deeply regret any sexual exploitation and abuse that has occurred.

"The [soldiers] are back under national jurisdiction. So far Sri Lanka has said... that they are going to be prosecuted in Sri Lanka."

Earlier this year more than 700 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast were suspended and in recent years, peacekeepers in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also been accused of sexual exploitation.

Member states are supplying about 100,000 troops to peacekeeping operations worldwide.

The 950-strong peacekeeping operation in Haiti is the first to which Sri Lanka has sent a full contingent of troops, although some officers have joined earlier missions.


So Much More

Everyone feels, at one point or another, the inadequacy of his or her mediocre life. We hear the echoes of these inconsistencies and doubts via many facets of life. Through music; “we were meant to live for so much more” by Switchfoot, or in movies like “The Lord of the Rings”:

Sam: …Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Where do these ideas of what this life is supposed to look like come from? And why, in most cases, when we stop and pause to reflect on life, are we only disappointed in where we have come and where we are going? Confusion about what this life is supposed to be seems more common than satisfaction in a life well lived.

Everything finds its meaning from its place in the story (thanks Brian McLaren). Significance comes not in any solitary moment or experience but within the context of seized opportunities. We need a paradigm shift in the mind of individuals about what it means to live life well and “have it together.” We live in a fast-paced, action-packed society that thrives off results. When individuals aren’t getting results, only participating in events/services/projects for the “satisfaction of taking part,” discouragement will soon settle in and make itself at home.

This becomes especially difficult when it comes to efforts like social justice. We won’t often see results – oppression, poverty, slavery and sexual exploitation aren’t just going to go away. This is a ceaseless fight – and I get tired, we get tired, and we long for results. But sometimes that is not what it is about. It’s about being faithful, doing what you are called to do – what you know you should do, loving the other, and seizing opportunities despite the outcome.

Sam’s right – there is some good in this world, and that good is worth fighting for. So what is your part in the story?