Who Takes Part in the Political Game? The Sex Work Governance Debate in Israel

Stephanie Levy-Aronovic, Yeela Lahav-Raz, Aviad Raz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Introduction: This study explores the recent neo-abolitionist legislation of the Israeli sex industry by illustrating the competing claims of various stakeholders: those leading the legal change and those protesting it. The main question is how Israeli sex workers perceive the public debate over governing the Israeli sex industry. Methods: This study combines qualitative methods that include ethnographic observations and interviews. The ethnographic observations were carried out between November 2018 and October 2019 in gatherings, protests, and academic conferences where sex workers were the lead speakers. In addition, 16 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with sex workers across various indoor sectors, and four interviews were conducted with political figures to learn about their efforts to adopt neo-abolitionist legislation. Results: the Israeli legislative proceedings initiated in 2007 deny sex workers a voice and exclude them from the political space and policy debates that have a direct bearing on their working lives and wellbeing. Thus, Israeli sex workers perceive sex work governance as controlling their agency and deepening their stigmatization. In this process, we show how contrasting groups became strange bedfellows in their attempt to protect sex workers by incriminating clients of the sex industry. Conclusions: We conclude that the binary framings of debates about sex work in Israel do not address the actual needs or political desires of sex workers who are ignored and excluded from the discourse about them. Policy Implications: Furthermore, we conclude that the issue at hand is not about permitting sex workers to express their views but rather about the need to listen to their critiques to ensure that policy is built on their knowledge and experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-526
Number of pages11
JournalSexuality Research and Social Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • Agency
  • Israeli sex industry
  • Neo-abolitionist legislation
  • Sex work policy
  • Stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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