Monthly Archives:July 2015

NCJW’s Anti-Human Trafficking Roots Run Deep!

20 Jul 15
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There was never a question of why National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) would engage fully and lead in the anti-human trafficking movement. It is something NCJW has been doing since 1894, one year after the establishment of NCJW. At that time, NCJW women saw the needs of immigrant Jewish girls as different from that of other immigrants. And NCJW sought to protect its immigrant Jewish daughters. According to author Faith Rogow, in her history of NCJW’s first 100 years, NCJW determined that the greatest threat to female immigrants was the white slave trade. It was an often covered up fact that in the late 1800’s and beyond, the white slave trade was often led by Jews. One source estimated that half of the prostitutes on Chicago’s West Side in the early 1900s were Jewish. Initially, NCJW concentrated its work on the juvenile courts (still a focus today) and on developing ways to keep girls from meeting the white slavers (also sounds like a familiar strategy!). By providing safe housing for single women and guiding them from the docks when they arrived in this country to connect with their families, NCJW women made a huge impact on the white slave trade. By 1903, NCJW was the leader in this unique work and was asked by the US government to help in preventing immigrant girls from ending up with white slavers. NCJW created a permanent aid station on Ellis Island, staffed by both NCJW volunteers and professionals. Between 1904 and 1907, NCJW helped close to 20,000 Jewish women and girls and countless non-Jews make it through customs and safely settle in America.

But this direct service was not the total answer for NCJW’s early leaders. In addition to their social service work to prevent trafficking, NCJW women advocated for governmental legislation to address this issue. Some things never change and never should. This work in the public policy arena continues to this day as NCJW takes the lead in seeking and supporting laws and policies to protect women and girls from the scourge of human trafficking.
It is clear that our efforts today to prevent and eliminate human trafficking of all women and girls (no longer just Jewish women and girls), has its roots in NCJW’s founding focus and the visionary women, many from Chicago, who led this charge. NCJW defined itself by its service and its advocacy then and now. As was said by Bertha Rauh in Jewish Woman (April 1922), an NCJW publication: “In no other religion is charity linked up with the idea of social justice as in ours. The Jewish philosophy which is expressed in the adage: ‘The whole world rests upon the Torah, the practice of religion, and the practice of social justice,’ is so inextricably interwoven with the idea that it is our religious duty to give to the poor with a view of helping them to rehabilitate themselves, that it completely dominates our conception of philanthropy. The abandonment of this controlling idea might indeed be tantamount to weakening our Jewish social structure.” And so it continues today.

The confluence of NCJW’s work in educating the public, providing direct services, and advocating for legislation and policies that support social justice, can be seen in our work on Human Trafficking nationally and locally and in NCJW’s leadership in the Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking (JCAST) Chicago. It would be nice to say that the groundwork laid in 1894 by NCJW has led to the elimination of sex trafficking. Unfortunately, we still have much work to do. Fortunately, we have a strong history of successes to build on.

– Carole Levine

Carole Levine is a member of the JCAST Chicago Steering Committee, National Recording Secretary of NCJW and a past president of NCJW Chicago Section and a policy and advocacy leader in the organization. She is a principal at Levine Partners, LLP, consulting with nonprofit organizations. She is grateful for the history of NCJW’s first 100 years as a source for this blog (Gone to Another Meeting; The National Council of Jewish Women 18933-1993, by Faith Rogow, published in 1993).

Paying the Price

15 Jul 15
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At least once a week, someone mistakes me for a prostitute. It started two years ago when I moved to south Tel-Aviv. At first I didn’t understand why cars were pulling up alongside me as I walked home, trailing me for a few moments and then driving away. After a few months I casually mentioned this strange behavior to one of my neighbors.

“They think you’re a prostitute,” she stated matter-of-factly. I must have looked offended, because she quickly added, “Don’t worry, it’s not just you. It happens to me too.”

Suddenly, many odd interactions began to make sense. For instance, the man who stopped me on street, insisting that he knew me.
“Don’t I know you?” he asked, looking me up and down.
“I don’t think so.” I responded.
“Ahh…” he hesitated.
“Can I help you with something? Do you need directions?”
“Yes, yes. I need directions.”
“Where to?”
“Ahh…never mind,” he mumbled over his shoulder as he walked quickly away.

Men would approach me in the middle of the day when I was on my way to a meeting, or at night when I was coming back from the gym. Sometimes I was able to laugh about it, but mostly I was annoyed and angry. Annoyed that I had to interact with sex-buyers who just assumed that a woman walking alone was a prostitute, and angry that they were permitted to purchase the sexual services they felt entitled to from women who lacked my privilege. Yes, I was annoyed and angry. But I wasn’t frightened until March 19, 2015.

It was a perfectly ordinary Thursday morning in south Tel Aviv. People were going to work, or walking to the market, or on their way to the bus stop. On the corner of HarZion and Salame, less than 100 meters from my apartment, a 37-year-old woman was walking her dog. Suddenly, a man ran up to her, slammed her against the wall of an apartment building, threw her to her knees, pulled down his pants, and sodomized her.

The attack lasted for ten minutes. For ten minutes, the woman tried to fight him off. For ten minutes, she struggled and screamed as people walked by, glanced at her and then looked away, and continued along their way. For ten minutes, dozens of people who passed her on their way to work and school paid her no notice. Taxis pulled up next to where she was kneeling and then drove off. Buses drove by.

After ten minutes, one person stopped and called the police. As the sirens approached, the attacker pulled up his pants and casually strolled away.

Now let us consider why, in the warm daylight of an ordinary Thursday morning, dozens of people witnessed a vicious sexual assault in progress, but averted their gazes, closed their ears to the victim’s screams, continued texting or talking on their cell phones, and kept walking. Let us consider why no one called out to the woman to ask if she needed help. Why no one shouted at the attacker, even from a distance. Why the rape continued for ten long, horrific minutes, before one person decided to call the police.

I’ve asked a lot of people this question, and it made all of them uncomfortable. Several surmised that it was due to the “bystander effect,” a theory which proposes that when there are many witnesses to an attack, people tend to assume that “someone else” will help, or are afraid to be the first to intervene; and thus watch but don’t act, or walk away.

It’s an interesting theory to ponder. But let’s consider something even more interesting: people witnessing an attack are less likely to intervene if they think the attacker is the victim’s husband or boyfriend. In controlled experiments, researchers found that when the woman yelled, “Get away from me; I don’t know you,” onlookers intervened more often than not. But if the woman instead yelled “Get away from me; I don’t know why I ever married you,” most people just walked by. The assumption is that there are circumstances in which a man has a right to assault a woman.

And, of course, if the passers-by assume the woman is a prostitute…well, then, it’s to be expected. Normal. All in a day’s work. It’s an understandable assumption, because paying for sex is legal in Israel; and researchers have long demonstrated that in areas where prostitution is legal or tolerated, a “culture of prostitution” takes root, strengthening the idea that men’s “needs” entitle them to women’s bodies. It’s no surprise that in areas where prostitution is tolerated, rates of gender-based violence rise. A man may have to pay for the right to sexually assault a woman today, but tomorrow he may just assault her.

In Israel, the law and the associated culture have helped to create and sustain an enormous industry built on human trafficking. Thousands of women and girls—poor immigrants, runaway teens, women fleeing abusive homes, Jews and Arabs alike—are lured by traffickers. They’re recruited personally by individuals, strangers or friends, or they respond to newspaper ads promising high-paying jobs. When they meet with the prospective “employer,” they’re sold to pimps and brothel owners. Hotels provide special deals to the pimps, who hire drivers to transport the women to and from “clients.” Impoverished and imprisoned in brothels and discreet apartments, the typical victim is forced to submit to being raped by as many as 15 men a day.

For the past three years, I served as a coordinator for the Task Force on Human Trafficking, a joint project of ATZUM – Justice Works and Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar law firm. TFHT works to engage and educate the public and government agencies, lobbies for reform in the areas of prevention, border closure, protection of escaped women, and prosecution of traffickers and pimps. The effort to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel has proven to be an uphill battle. Recent allegations that a member of the Knesset has been involved in pimping and drugs only underscore the complexity and deep roots of Israel’s human trafficking industry.

On March 19th a woman was violently attacked in broad daylight, and dozens of witnesses did nothing. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. Israelis in general, and residents of Tel-Aviv in particular, have determined that the monetized sexual assault of prostituted women is acceptable. But it is not just the women in prostitution who suffer society’s callousness and apathy. All women will pay the price. What happened that Thursday morning in March in my neighborhood happens every day, and in many neighborhoods: people looked at a woman, and saw a commodity.

– Rebecca Hughes

Rebecca Hughes, an avid blogger whose work has been published in the “Times of Israel” and the “Jerusalem Post”, served as Coordinator for ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking Project from 2012 – 2015. She is now studying towards a Master of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., from where she coordinates TFHT’s international online lobbying initiative, Project 119.