For the past week and a half Israel has been treated to the perfect scandal. It involves the “very famous singer” Eyal Golan, drugs, young girls and of course sex. Allegedly, Golan enjoys having sex with teenagers plucked from the crowds of his concerts. The details are fuzzy, but to many people this incident looks disturbingly like underage prostitution – young girls sleeping with men who provide them with cash, gifts and clothes.
In Israel as in many other countries, minors entering prostitution typically start off by trading sexual services for a place to sleep, food, or a bit of spending money. While they themselves may not identify this as prostitution, it is. What starts off as a child sleeping with someone who can provide for him or her, often gradually descends into the kind of prostitution seen outside the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station.
Unfortunately, this story of the pedophilic singer and his young victims constitutes only one small piece of the massive mosaic that is underage prostitution in Israel. We have all heard the stories of minors participating in the sex trade: the group of 16-year old boys whose idea of a party includes strippers; the 15-year old girls in Be’er Sheba who spend their summer vacation in Eilat selling sex; or the high school students who visit the local brothel after class. These stories are discussed on our Facebook walls, in our newspapers and even in our Knesset. Yet, one place you won’t find these stories discussed is in our schools.
Currently Israel is home to an estimated 5,000 prostituted minors and the average age of entrance into prostitution is between 13 and 14. However, many experts assert that the age of entrance is dropping. In addition to children making up a third of all prostituted persons in Israel, it is not uncommon for first time sex buyers to be minors.
This brings us to an obvious, albeit it uncomfortable, truth: in Israel prostitution is a problem that children are confronting. Yet, despite this Israel’s schools lack a formal program to provide students with the skills they need to make healthy and ethically sound choices. It is essential that individuals on both the supply and demand side of prostitution be equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to stay safe and respect others and themselves.
Some may argue that these conversations are better had at home. Yet, the children who are most vulnerable to being prostituted are the same children who tend to lack adult advocates. They typically come from broken homes and backgrounds of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
By getting involved in prostitution these minors are put at further risk for sexual assault, venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy and drug addiction. It is critical that schools provide these students with the context to properly understand and avoid prostitution and its risks. Moreover, educational professionals should receive basic training to identify and assist students struggling with this issue.
There is another group of students desperately in need of a prostitution education program: potential buyers. Many first time sex buyers are minors and whether they are aware of it or not, by purchasing sex they are contributing to the pain and suffering of thousands, and encouraging economic, social, and gender inequality.
Furthermore, research shows that individuals who purchase sexual services are more prone to committing sexual and physical violence against both prostituted and non-prostituted women. By failing to educate young men about the realities and impact of prostitution, we are complicit in creating a generation of men who will uphold a system that oppresses all women.
Just as the Golan scandal was breaking the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution was meeting. The meeting’s agenda, decided months before, focused on the prostitution of minors and the question of whether or not Israel needs a program to educate students about prostitution.
This question has been answered.
Israel owes its children an honest and open conversation about the dangers and harms of prostitution. Though we failed to prevent this most recent incident, thousands of other students in Israel are at risk for buying or selling sex and we are in the position to help. Let’s make sure that we do.