Vice Squad
Saturday, October 11, 2003
 
Prostitution in the Czech Republic


Reuters reports that police in the Czech Republic stormed more than 400 brothels on Friday night. (More details
are available in this story from the Czech News Agency.) It seems as if the raids are aimed at those who traffic in
women rather than the prostitutes themselves. (Update: The Czech News Agency reports the results of the raids.
Seventeen people have been charged with procuring, and another sixteen have been charged with trafficking
in women.)

The Czech Republic has been under pressure from the EU and the UN to try to do a better job of controlling trafficking in women. As the
Czech Interior Ministry has noted in the past, differentiating voluntary from coerced prostitution is not always straightforward. Foreigners
coerced into prostitution generally are wary of cooperating with authorities, as they might fear either their pimps or that they will be
deported (or both). The Czech Interior Ministry has been developing methods to try to overcome that problem, by providing temporary visas
and even the prospect of permanent legal residency for those prostitutes who cooperate with police against illegal traffickers.

Finding regulatory mechanisms that do a good job of discriminating between coerced and voluntary prostitution is no easy matter. In 1910,
the US enacted the White Slave Traffic Act (the Mann Act) to combat a perceived (and almost entirely fictional, it seems) mushrooming of
coerced prostitution across state lines. (Here's a great book by David Langum on the Mann Act.) Within a few years, the Mann Act was being
used to prosecute consensual adult relationships, many of them not even involving prostitution or commercial sex of any kind.
Though enforcement slowed after the 1930s, it wasn't until the mid-1980s that the Act was amended to put couples traveling across state lines
out of harm's way.

Is prostitution itself illegal in the Czech Republic? The Reuters article says yes, but that it is widely tolerated. I have seen previous reports
(including a claim from a Czech Interior Ministry spokesperson) that prostitution per se is not illegal (which is the case in many European countries),
though public solicitation is a misdemeanor. There has been talk of setting up German-style regulations around legal prostitution in the Czech Republic.

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