Vice Squad
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Legalizing Czech Prostitution?

Friend of Vice Squad "Misspent Youth" -- a smart fellow who nevertheless, somehow, remains unconvinced of many of the positions taken on the VS blog -- brings our attention to an article in National Review Online arguing against the legalization of prostitution in the Czech Republic being prepared by the Czech government. I find the article to be well over the top; the author claims of the prostitutes that "most of them are slaves, victims of sex trafficking." The Czech police don't seem to think that is the case. When they raided 400 brothels in October, they arrested only 16 people on trafficking charges. No doubt there are many cases of trafficking and near-slavery, but the claim that the majority of prostitutes are slaves seems unfounded to me. The article also notes the ongoing problem with child prostitution in the Czech Republic, and the rampant prostitution near the German and Austrian borders.

The article is a pretty effective piece of advocacy against the legalization of prostitution, though as the loyal Vice Squad reader will know, I disagree with the policy recommendation. The author's definition of prostitution virtually precludes a regulatory regime. For her, prostitution "is abuse and exploitation that women only engage in if forced to or when they have no other options."

One surprising complication is that it isn't all that clear whether or not prostitution is already legal in the Czech republic. The current rules are ambiguous and hard to ferret out -- here's an earlier Vice Squad post expressing the uncertainty. Adult prostitution per se is at least de facto legal, though explicit legalization might run counter to a UN Convention signed in 1951 by the then Czechoslovakia. At any rate, it is certainly possible that the proposed reform, which includes a licensing scheme and some local option, represents a tightening, not a liberalization, of prostitution laws in the Czech Republic. Here's the beginning of an Associated Press Worldstream article (not available on-line, it seems) from April 29:

"The Czech government plans to tighten controls on rampant prostitution in the country by licensing the sex trade and confining it to certain areas, an official said Thursday.

Spokeswoman Anna Veverkova said the government on Wednesday agreed to draft legislation that would allow cities to license prostitutes in certain districts.

Prostitution in the Czech Republic is not a criminal offense and is widespread, especially in the capital, Prague, and near the nation's western borders with Germany and Austria. There are as many as 25,000 prostitutes in the country according to some estimates."

As for the border area prostitution, there were fears that it would snowball following the May 1st Czech accession into the EU. Early reports, however, are that exactly the opposite has happened. It seems that lengthy border delays were the main factor fueling prostitution at the German border. Here's the beginning of this BBC article:

"The number of prostitutes lining the main truck routes through the Czech-German border has plummeted since the Czech Republic joined the EU on 1 May.

The Czech press says truck drivers - the prostitutes' chief clients - are now passing through the border swiftly without needing to spend hours in traffic queues."

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