TFHT Director Michal Leibel spent much of the Sukkot holiday attending an international conference in Nicosia, Cyprus. The “International Best Practices in Combating Human Trafficking” Conference was organized by PRIO and hosted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in partnership with the Swedish and Norwegian Ministries for Foreign Affairs. Researchers, funders, direct service providers, policy makers and activists from Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Ukraine, UK, USA, Germany, Austria and Sweden, Israel and the Palestinian Territories gathered to discuss issues such as victim services, public policy, legislation, the allocation of resources towards law enforcement and rehabilitation and the need for close collaboration between the authorities and civil society.
Michal was the only Israeli invited to speak at the conference. In her presentation she related to Israel’s current position on trafficking and prostitution; the Task Force’s tireless commitment to pass Nordic Model legislation designed to criminalize johns and protect prostituted women; and TFHT’s recent efforts to author more comprehensive legislation than that considered by any previous Israeli government.
Her lecture was exceptionally clear, impassioned and thoughtful as she spoke about the link between trafficking and prostitution and the need to always remember the person behind the label. She related to her many experiences working both at the policy level and in her face-to-face contact with women who have managed to escape both prostitution and the notion of victimhood, as they begin to see themselves as survivors.
In her concluding remarks she noted: “…I think we should be wary of seeing prostituted people only, or mostly, as victims, not because they weren’t harmed, abused and wronged, but because by treating them as mere victims we risk ignoring their agency, life experience and strength. No one wants to be a victim, and most people don’t want to be looked at as victims. Therefore, I believe that we should see prostituted women – both survivors and those still in prostitution – as partners worth listening to, even though it sometimes mean to compromise and change our ideas about prostitution.” Her words remind us all to move beyond stereotypes and bring this group of women back into society’s fold.