Police have busted a suspected sex trafficking ring that allegedly brought women from abroad to Israel for prostitution, arresting eight suspects Monday morning including a female former Israeli athlete.
The crime ring made contact with the women via Russian-language online advertisements before bringing them to Israel to work as prostitutes, police said in a statement. In the country, it allegedly arranged their living situations and ferried them from customer to customer at a number of “discreet houses” masquerading as massage services.
Police said that the ring, which they claim has been operational for “a number of years,” was run by a 51-year-old woman from the central city of Ramat Gan. The Ynet news site reported that she is a former Israeli athlete who has competed for Israel on an international level and, after retiring from competition, worked as a trainer.
Her husband was also arrested along with five other women and another man, the police statement added.
The group is also suspected of a slew of tax offenses including money laundering.
Pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable under existing Israeli law. In December 2018 the Knesset approved a law that also punishes johns caught hiring sex workers.
The law criminalizes procuring the services of a prostitute, as well as presence in a location chiefly used for prostitution, such as a brothel. First-time offenders are fined NIS 2,000 ($530), with the sum doubled for repeat offenses within three years.
In 2016, the Welfare Ministry estimated there were 11,420-12,730 sex workers driving the country’s NIS 1.2 billion ($318 million) industry. According to that report, 71 percent of prostitutes said they began sex work out of financial desperation, and 76% said they would leave the industry if they could.