Es­cap­ing the world’s old­est pro­fes­sion

Es­cap­ing the world’s old­est pro­fes­sion

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By SI­GAL BEN DAVID

‘You’re so beau­ti­ful, Lanuchka,” she told me sud­denly in a strange voice. “I thought maybe you’d come with me to the Di­a­mond Exchange and work with me there.”

I thought she was kid­ding around, or had taken some weird drugs she doesn’t usu­ally take. “Enough, Mama, that’s not funny,” I replied, as I plas­tered a smile on my face.

But then she pushed me back down on the bed and her face had a very se­ri­ous ex­pres­sion on it. “You’re so young and beau­ti­ful. There aren’t many girls there at the mo­ment – this is an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity,” she told me.

“Op­por­tu­nity to do what?” I yelled, as I jumped off the bed, ag­i­tated. “To be a whore like you? That will never hap­pen.”

“You bet­ter be­lieve it will,” she replied in a quiet voice. “There’s no al­ter­na­tive.”

“But how can you ask your daugh­ter to be­come a pros­ti­tute? Don’t you have a heart?” I begged of her.

All of a sud­den, I felt so lonely, like there was no one in the en­tire world who would pro­tect me from all of the bad in the world.

This is how Liat Elazar de­scribes how her good friend Lena, who is no longer alive, was in­tro­duced to the world of pros­ti­tu­tion, fol­low­ing pres­sure from her own mother. Elazar tells this and many other sto­ries in her new book, Lost Girls, which fol­lows the lives of sev­eral for­mer pros­ti­tutes, in­clud­ing her­self, who man­aged to es­cape the world of pros­ti­tu­tion, though not with­out count­less emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal scars.

“Ev­ery wo­man who works as a pros­ti­tute is a vic­tim,” says Elazar. “On the one hand, you say to your­self, I don’t want to be doing this. But, on the other hand, you say to your­self, What else am I qual­i­fied to work in? It’s the only thing I know how to do.

“They all be­lieve this is their fate in life. They don’t want to be doing it, but feel they weren’t given a choice. In the story about my close friend Lena, I de­scribe her re­la­tion­ship with her mother, who was also a pros­ti­tute and who was the one who in­tro­duced Lena to that world at such a ten­der young age. Lena be­came preg­nant and they took the baby away.

“Later, Lena died from an over­dose and her mother was mur­dered. The pro­tag­o­nists of other sto­ries in­clude a cou­ple in their 40s who are drug ad­dicts. The wo­man was a re­ally tough fig­ure who was well known on the streets. An­other char­ac­ter was a taxi driver who would pimp out naive girls. And of course, there’s my own per­sonal story. I saw women around me be­ing stabbed, raped, mur­dered all the time. And everyone would just go on with their lives as if noth­ing had hap­pened. In the eyes of the au­thor­i­ties, th­ese were just work ac­ci­dents that came with the ter­ri­tory. My self-worth was so low that I didn’t con­sider th­ese in­ci­dents crimes ei­ther.”

Af­ter be­ing a part of the pros­ti­tu­tion world for 15 years, Elazar fi­nally gath­ered the courage to go pub­lic with her story, in a book about her life and the sex in­dus­try in Is­rael dur­ing the first decade of the mil­len­nium.

Elazar de­scribes her early child­hood in a dys­func­tional home and later in fos­ter care and fi­nally on the street. She suf­fered ex­treme vi­o­lence, so­cial alien­ation and fi­nally hos­pi­tal­iza­tion at Geha Mental Health Cen­ter. Through a crowd­sourc­ing cam­paign, Elazar is cur­rently rais­ing money to be used to pub­lish her book.

“I used to have sex with peo­ple in exchange for get­ting free rides to places,” says Elazar. “I don’t even know why I would do it. It was a big mis­take. I was search­ing for love and money. When I was 18, some­body re­ferred me to a brothel – he told me it was a shame that I was giv­ing it away for free. I was a big hit there, since I was so much younger than everyone else. I made a ton of money – thou­sands of shekels. I used to re­ceive around 10 cus­tomers a day. I never saw the pimps. I was very naive. I loved to read and go to art mu­se­ums. I trusted everyone who I came into contact with.”

Grow­ing up, Elazar’s fa­ther was al­ways in debt, and so he would move from one city to an­other. Her mother was clin­i­cally depressed, and Elazar her­self suf­fered from an eat­ing dis­or­der. Through­out her child­hood, she con­stantly yearned for a lov­ing home and a place where she could feel like she be­longed. When she ar­rived at the brothel, she was so re­lieved to fi­nally have a roof over her head.

“I was there for six months be­fore we moved to the Di­a­mond Exchange in Ra­mat Gan,” Elazar re­calls. “When I was 19, I was kicked out be­cause I didn’t al­ways use con­doms. At the time, I didn’t un­der­stand what the big deal was. Now I un­der­stand that I was in­dif­fer­ent to life – I didn’t care if I lived or died. My self-es­teem was at rock bot­tom.”

Elazar bounced around from one brothel to an­other in dif­fer­ent cities, still not re­al­iz­ing what was go­ing on in her life.

“I suf­fered tremen­dous trauma at a brothel in Haifa,” Elazar de­scribes. “Most of the women there had fallen on hard times and were ab­so­lutely mis­er­able. I used to talk about my dreams of one day get­ting mar­ried to some­one who loved me, and that drove the other women crazy, and they would hit me un­til I shut up.”

About a year later, Elazar re­turned to the Di­a­mond Exchange in Ra­mat Gan.

“Some­one took me there and told me to stand next to a tree. He said, ‘Stand here and ask for NIS 70,’” Elazar re­calls. “But I asked only for NIS 50 since I couldn’t imag­ine that I was worth NIS 70. Even though at the time I was young – 23 – and I looked re­ally good, with long blond hair. I could have got­ten even NIS 100, but my self-image was so low. The po­lice used to pick us up, push us into their po­lice vans and then dump us out some­where else.”

Over time, Elazar man­aged to make enough money to rent an apart­ment in Ne­tanya, but she con­tin­ued to suf­fer from vi­o­lence and fear as she worked the streets at the Di­a­mond Exchange or Tel Baruch.

“Ev­ery time you get into a man’s car, you don’t know if or when you’re go­ing to get out,” Elazar ex­plains. “You just spend the whole time pray­ing that it’s go­ing to end peace­fully. Once, I was picked up by a group of teens and one of them was not sat­is­fied. So I ran away to a nearby kiosk and he kept stab­bing me with a screw­driver while his friends threw yo­gurt on me. Luck­ily, a po­lice car drove by and stopped to ask if I wanted them to call an am­bu­lance for me. They didn’t ask if I wanted to file a po­lice re­port, and nei­ther did they chase af­ter the boys. To them, it was like I wasn’t a full hu­man be­ing.

“I wit­nessed a num­ber of gang rapes where the women had to be taken to the hos­pi­tal after­ward. Twenty years ago, that would hap­pen all the time. Nobody cared about us. Some­times, volunteers would come dis­trib­ute con­doms to all the pros­ti­tutes. Lots of women die in this line of work – mostly from drug over­doses and mur­der.”

AT SOME point, Elazar de­cided she wanted to leave the world of pros­ti­tu­tion. “I must have some­one up above who was look­ing out for me, be­cause some­how I never de­vel­oped a drug addiction. One day, I was pon­der­ing how much longer I could re­main in this line of work. I mean, I wasn’t 20 years old any­more. I be­gan deal­ing with an in­ter­nal strug­gle, and I re­al­ized that I needed to set an ac­tual date, so I de­cided on Jan­uary 1, 2009. Af­ter that, I told my­self, I wouldn’t work as a pros­ti­tute any­more.”

“At first, I be­gan work­ing with the el­derly, be­cause I was wor­ried some­one might rec­og­nize me. This hap­pened a few times, when peo­ple rec­og­nized me and called me Si­van, my pre­vi­ous name. It was so up­set­ting when that would hap­pen, and I would be re­minded of my old life.”

Now, at the age of 45, Elazar lives with her part­ner and works as a cashier at a gro­cery store. Her part­ner knows all about her past and ac­cepts her just the way she is. They are very happy, she says.

When I ask her if she wants to have kids, she brushes away the ques­tion.

“I have rot­ten genes and I would never con­sider pass­ing them on to anyone else,” she says sadly. “I’m dam­aged on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els.

“Till this day, I get anx­ious when I hear men talk­ing near me. I can’t sit next to men on the bus, ei­ther. For me, men are all dirty, dis­gust­ing.

“I don’t think I can al­ter my brain at this point in my life. Hu­man beings are not built phys­i­cally or emo­tion­ally to work as pros­ti­tutes. It’s not nor­mal. While you’re work­ing, you man­age to dis­so­ci­ate from your body, but af­ter a num­ber of years, you re­al­ize how dam­ag­ing it is to your soul.”

Elazar is cur­rently try­ing to raise NIS 23,000 in a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign so she can pub­lish her book. So far, she’s raised NIS 9,600 and hopes that peo­ple will in­vest and buy her book as a ges­ture to help women who are still stuck in­side the pros­ti­tu­tion in­dus­try.

Her goal is to change the stereo­type and ed­u­cate peo­ple so that they un­der­stand that women don’t choose to be­come pros­ti­tutes, and that they don’t get rich from it. Elazar hopes that her book will help peo­ple un­der­stand this world bet­ter by telling the ugly truth about the ter­ri­ble psy­cho­log­i­cal stresses women in the in­dus­try deal with.

“No wo­man can re­tain her emo­tional health while work­ing as a pros­ti­tute,” Elazar claims. “No one is built to sleep with 30 men in one day. Till this day, I still don’t un­der­stand how I sur­vived.

“While you’re in the mid­dle of it, you don’t think it’s so bad, but if you fi­nally man­age to leave af­ter hav­ing been there for years, you sud­denly re­al­ize how trau­matic it ac­tu­ally was. One day you wake up and un­der­stand how sick and twisted this world is.

“It’s su­per im­por­tant that women reach out for help – there are a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions that help with this nowa­days. It’s not as hard get­ting help as it used to be.

“And for women who are con­sid­er­ing en­ter­ing this world – I am here to warn you: Don’t do it! It’s not worth it. Just don’t even get started. It’s a bot­tom­less pit, and the trauma will stay with you for the rest of your life.”


LIAT ELAZAR: ‘I was search­ing for love and money.’

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