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Seventy percent of those who traffic in or pimp women hail from the Commonwealth of Independent States

In the aftermath of the report, which was released Monday, the Hotline has called on Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs chairman Michael Nudelman (Kadima) to take up the matter.

"When I started working on this eight years ago, people warned me that I was getting involved with the Russian Mafia," the report's author, lawyer Nomi Levenkron, who heads the Hotline's anti-trafficking program, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.

"People always imagine a Tony Soprano-type character," she said, "but while there are the big bosses, there are also the foot soldiers, many of whom fall into this work because of economic desperation."

Levenkron said it was time for Nudelman's committee, which looks at a broad range of issues affecting new immigrants, to investigate this matter and devise ways to stop immigrants from falling into the world of crime.

Nudelman said the report was too narrow in its scope and that its findings were more likely to create stereotypes and stigmas than stop the phenomenon.

"I am very against stigmas and don't feel it is my committee's role to discuss this issue," he told the Post, adding that being a struggling new immigrant does not necessarily excuse a person choosing a life of crime.

"Every individual has to take responsibility for their own actions," said Nudelman. "Protecting the female victims is the role of the police, not of this committee."

One of the report's central findings is that "traffickers in women are not necessarily career criminals for whom criminality is a way of life."

"Most sex traffickers in Israel came from countries of the former Soviet Union during the 1990s," according to the 110-page report. "Upon arrival, the trafficker encountered economic difficulties, and in the context of these he fell, perhaps - as he may claim - against his will, into trafficking for prostitution. He is not always a hardened criminal, and sometimes this is the first crime for which he is being held culpable and even the first crime he has committed."

The report, which is based on limited existing research, legal proceedings and interviews with victims and the police, found that close to half of the traffickers (47.3%) come from completely normative backgrounds, had "normal" jobs before becoming traffickers and did not have any prior criminal record. However, it does note that "the higher ranking the trafficker was within the criminal organization, the higher the probability that he had a criminal past, though not necessarily a criminal record."

Levenkron said the aim of the study was "to examine, for the first time, characteristics of traffickers in Israel; to focus on the people greasing the wheels of the sex industry in order to ensure that it [does not] continue."

The paper's secondary goal, she said, was to expose the traffickers "to the public."

Although a large proportion of the traffickers were new immigrants, Levenkron said, those who facilitate the industry and keep it in business are mainly Israeli-born men.

The report includes an extensive history of the trafficking industry in modern Israel.

It also includes extensive details on the background of typical traffickers, such as an average age of 40 for traffickers and that many of them are married with children.

While the majority of the traffickers investigated by Levenkron originated from the former Soviet Union - allowing them to communicate easily with many of the victims who are brought from Eastern Europe and the CIS - most of them were also Israeli citizens.

"[They enjoyed] full citizenship rights and were familiar with local law and culture, which enabled them to control the victims to produce maximal earnings," Levenkron wrote, adding: "At a later stage, when they were arrested and tried, they appealed to the court's mercy on the basis of being new immigrants, claiming that they dealt in trafficking only because of the difficulties associated with their immigration and acculturation."

"We need to be focusing on how to rehabilitate the traffickers," Levenkron wrote. "Even though a man may sit in jail, his foot soldiers are still out there doing the work, and we need to be thinking about how to make sure his [criminal] career is over."


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