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Lenient Social and Legal Response to Trafficking in Women: An Empirical Analysis of Public Perceptions in Israel

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 24 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2008 Pages: 314-333
Sergio Herzog
Date Published
August 2008
20 pages
This study conducted in Israel examined the roots of the lenient social and legal response to criminal traffickers in women for prostitution while targeting the victims (trafficked women) for arrest and prosecution.
he telephone survey, which solicited opinions on the severity of various crime scenarios, found, as expected, relatively high seriousness and punishment scores for typical violent offenses, such as homicide, rape, violence, and robbery. Contrary to expectations, however, scenarios of trafficking in women for prostitution (TWP) also received relatively high seriousness and punishment mean scores. TWP scenarios received significantly higher seriousness and punishment mean scores compared with many other nonviolent criminal offenses. This suggests that the Israeli public at large does not perceive TWP as a relatively minor victimless crime, but rather on a par with relatively serious violent offenses with well-defined personal victims and offenders who should be severely punished. As expected, however, the study found that respondents’ perceptions toward both the seriousness of TWP acts and the appropriate punishment for traffickers were significantly influenced by their gender-role attitudes toward women. Respondents who endorsed less traditional and more egalitarian gender-role attitudes perceived TWP scenarios as significantly more serious and demanded significantly more severe punishments for traffickers than more patriarchal respondents who held more traditional gender-role attitudes. These findings suggest that public attitudes toward traffickers involved in TWP are not reflected in the political and legal priorities and responses to TWP. The public will support the needed shift from targeting the women as criminals to treating them as victims, while increasing efforts to target and punish traffickers. Data were collected via anonymous questionnaires administered by telephone from mid-December 2003 through mid-March 2004. Each questionnaire included five different hypothetical crime scenarios for evaluation, including TWP cases. 4 tables, 8 notes, 33 references, and appended TWP scenario and a listing of variables and values in the factorial approach