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Lauer discusses human trafficking

By Danielle Gross
On September 20, 2011

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and the Schusterman Center for Israeli Studies sponsored a lecture and discussion with Rabbi Levi Lauer titled "When Hope Ends in Slavery: Human Trafficking in Israel" in Rapaporte Treasure Hall last Tuesday.

Lauer examined the rise in trafficking of women over the Israeli borders for the purpose of sex slavery and how Assisting Israeli Terror Victims and Righteous Among Nations (ATZUM) and the Task Force on Human Trafficking are working together to fight and address this human rights issue.

The event was co-sponsored by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute; the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life; the Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies Program; the Social Justice & Social Policy Program; the Women's and Gender Studies Program; and the Women's Studies Research Center.

Prof. Ilan Troen (NEJS), director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, delivered the opening remarks in which he introduced the Rabbi. Troen referred to Lauer as an "unusual and exceptional individual who blends the vision of a utopia with an energetic activist who is prepared to engage in unwelcome realities."

He then went on to discuss Lauer's work with creating ATZUM and some of the goals behind the organization. According to ATZUM's website, its goals are to make a crucial difference in assisting survivors of terror, supporting Righteous Among the Nations and alerting and stopping the problem of human trafficking in the country. He finished off his statement by leaving the audience with some words to consider during the rest of the presentation—that there are no innocent bystanders.

According to background knowledge provided by Lauer, prostitution is legal in Israel for both the buyer and the seller. However, brothels, pimping and sex trafficking are all illegal. Many advocates behind the anti-trafficking groups in Israel believe the lenient laws in which men can pay for sex has led to the trafficking problems within the country.

Approximately 3,200 destitute women are taken from their homes in various countries and forced over the border into Israel each year. They are then each given a "slaver," a man who is in charge of finding clients to violate them for money. The women are stripped naked and sold on the street based on their appearances. Lauer said that because these women do not give any consent, the slavers are profiting from rape.

Lauer started off discussing how widespread the issue of sex slavery is and how almost everyone in the country knows about the crimes being committed toward these women. "Today, there is not a single Israeli ... who doesn't know that there is a major problem with trafficking of sex slaves into the state of Israel. The only people that say that they don't know are either men who compulsively rape sex slaves and say that they're having sex with prostitutes or people that don't want to know."

Lauer provided figures about the men who commit these crimes, which are as follows: 8 percent of the clientele in the sexual slavery field are foreign workers; 20 to 25 percent are Arab; 30 percent are Haredi Jews—the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism; and the rest cut across all social, economic and financial groups in Israel.

Lauer went on to discuss potential remedies. The issue has been brought to the attention of the police and the media several times, and there was little to no reaction. Lauer did mention that on multiple accounts he was asked if the women were Jewish. When he disclosed that some of the women were not Jewish, interest was quickly lost. According to Lauer, people are currently garnering support for national legislation to pass a law that would criminalize men who buy sex but decriminalize the women who sell sex. A bill of this caliber was introduced about 3 years ago but no further action has been taken.

The most controversial of the courses of action being taken against sexual trafficking is called "Women To Go," a campaign in Israel in which women are displayed in storefront windows wearing stylish yet provocative clothing as well as a large price tag. Listed on this tag are the height, weight and the country of origin for these women. The point of this is to spread awareness about the issue and mock the idea of selling women.

When Lauer was done laying down a solid framework of facts, the audience began to participate and ask questions. The topics broached in these inquiries ranged from whether the suggested bill would possibly lead to the murdering of the women to a discussion in the problems and psychology of the way criminals may be handled.

When asked how she felt about the event, Florence Graves, the founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, replied, "I think the event was a success, and I am very happy with the turnout that we had. It is very exciting that people are this invested and interested in the topic. [Lauer] is a wonderfully eloquent speaker, and I think he has made a huge impact here at Brandeis."

Irina Finkel '12, who works at the Schuster Institute, said that the best parts of the presentation were the stories. "They were very vivid and haunting. Those types of things helped to drive the point across. ... Those kinds of things get people's attention and make them more willing to listen to different approaches and statistics. He is most effective at getting people's attention."  

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