Article by Tzipi Sa’ar translated from Hebrew 19.02.2020 12:13, Haaretz newspaper.
The closure of strip clubs in Tel Aviv is great news. We are finally recognizing that buying a woman’s body for sexual purposes is an act that disgraces women and is a phenomenon that should be eradicated from this world. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore that, as is common here, only half the work has been done. The clubs were closed, but the women working there were offered no professional retraining or alternative livelihood as options. As a result, some of the women, although supporting the closure of the clubs in which they worked, also protested these very closures.
We cannot and must not ignore their voices. This does not mean that stripping should continue, but that eliminating this practice must be accompanied by adequate steps in favor of the women who happened to get trapped into such reality.
First of all it should be clear: as long as there is legitimacy for a situation where a woman’s body, or parts of it, are currency or a commodity for a merchant, it is impossible to fundamentally change the existing culture that, in this context, may move within a range between objectification – to rape- or even to murder by a spouse. A commodity is considered property that is owned and this “ownership” by men – of women – fundamentally underlies the ills noted here. According to this twisted logic, a woman who wants to leave her spouse violates his “property rights”. This conflict sometimes, in extreme cases, ends in the murder of the wife.
As for stripping, to a large extent, it is nothing but prostitution in disguise. In a discussion in the Knesset’s Committee of the Promotion of Woman Status, a survivor of prostitution testified stating, “Stripping is like a teaser for advertising prostitution. Because whoever likes the dancer is allowed to take her to a private room and, for a fee, gets a sexual service there. You feel as if you are in a store with price tag on you. Those who are better dancers, of course, have a higher price tag.”
According to a document submitted to the committee, “For many young women, strip clubs serve as the gateway to the world of prostitution. While lap-dancing on a customer’s knees in the back rooms or at other locations within the strip club, the young women are required to satisfy their clients’ sexual needs and demands. They also must allow the customer to touch their body parts. To cope, they detach themselves from who they are, from their consciousness, and in particular from their feelings about what happens with their bodies. Strip clubs serve as a cover for brothels, where sexual acts – complete or partial – between clients and women are performed under the auspices, encouragement and support of club owners who in this manner make fortunes.”
The Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) research has shown similar findings as well. A JIJ position paper cites Judge Michal Agmon Gonen, who imposed a ban on the operation of strip clubs in the Ramat Gan Stock Exchange area, as stating that strip clubs are an integral part of the sex industry. The study further says that, while hiding behind different phrases, for all intents and purposes, strip clubs operate as brothels and the only difference between the two seems to be the social approval of the strip clubs in contrast to the disgrace that brothels carry.
The judge wrote, “Strip clubs are used to systemically hurt women and the difference from brothels is definitely artificial.” This contrived difference needs to be eliminated. One can also hope that more and more men will understand what stripping really is and reject, for example, an invitation to a “bachelor party” with a stripper. In this spirit, and with an administrative warrant, the police closed three strip clubs in Tel Aviv last month. They were following the instructions of former state attorney Shai Nitzan which include a definition of lap-dancing as a form of prostitution and therefore clubs allowing lap dancing are operating a brothel which is a criminal offense.
But what about the argument of some women who engage in stripping, and even prostitution, who say they engage in these activities voluntarily? Well, here we have compelling data regarding the personal harm to prostitutes that is impossible to ignore: the early age of entry into prostitution (14), the high rate of women in prostitution who were victims of childhood sexual abuse (about 90%), the horrendous short life expectancy of women in prostitution (40 years), and more.
Still, some would say, “Who authorized you to decide for other women what is good for them? And what about those women who do it voluntarily?” Well, we accept that among women in stripping and maybe even prostitution there are those who choose it freely, however, these examples represent a very small minority. When the harm of “freedom of occupation” is compared with the bitter and harsh fate of the vast majority of women trapped in stripping and prostitution – it is clear what decision is needed to be made.
As a comparison, there are other forms of restricted behavior. There are some individuals who would choose to sell a kidney on the black market to support their family or to cover a major debt. Society draws a red line here and says this activity is not moral and is therefore not allowed. The fact that society does not generally draw a similar red line in the context of a sex sale is simply an indication of a moral failure and an issue that requires redress.
After all the above, under no circumstances should women in prostitution or stripping be abandoned to their fate. These welcomed changes in law and enforcement must be accompanied by comprehensive and practical programs designed to help these women find alternative ways to make a living. This must not be lip service only. One cannot cheer for strip clubs being closed while watching the women being thrown to the street. The truth is that the government approved a plan for prostitution rehabilitation over a year ago, but according to a petition submitted in the end of 2019, this program is not yet implemented. We, as the people who support the eradication of this practice, should be the first to demand the immediate and comprehensive implementation of these rehabilitation strategies.
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