A Function of Impoverishment?
Visitor number 2,264 (if sitemeter kept its statistics long enough you may even be able to see it for yourself by clicking on the sitemeter icon in the right-hand column) found this blog by searching "sex czech" through the msn search engine. I was relieved to find that "Nuda v Brne?" did not appear until the seventh page of results. Readers of my recent post on Brno videochat advertisements may have expected my blog to rank higher, but it did not. My attention, however, was more attracted to another link on the search results, which read: "Stop Child Abuse: Czech survey shows high school students take cash for sex PRAGUE, April 11, 2006 (AFP)."
High school students? Well, OK, perhaps somewhere in Prague's dark underbelly. But this was a bit disturbing. I called my response to the videochat advertisements "ambivalent." The post from the Stop Child Abuse blog, however, changed my response to something stronger. I won't vouch for credibility of the information, but I am highly inclined to believe it. Here is my digest version (if you want the full story, click here) and a few thoughts.
According to results cited at a recent Prague symposium on child prostitution and released in a press conference, "A survey of 1,200 students in their last year at high school in Prague showed 3.6 percent of girls and 1.8 percent of boys had accepted cash for sex. . . . Many young people did not regard accepting payment for sex as prostitution." In addition, "A quarter of the 19-year-old girls surveyed, and a third of the boys, said they would turn to commercial sex if the need arose."
Panelists encouraged the audience to look beyond economic poverty, the "more traditional explanation" of prostitution. This is only one in a constellation of social factors that might cause individuals to turn to prostitution. Dr. Eva Vaníčková, of a medical faculty at Charles University and author of a book on child prostitution, highlighted "social, emotional, or cultural poverty" as important additional factors. Elsewhere Vaníčková reported that approximately one percent of all Czech children have been victims of sexual abuse in some form.
Laslo Sumegh, coordinator of the Prague charity Šance (Chances), says that his organization helps homeless children "often forced to sell their youth." He says homeless children have become less visible recently on Prague streets, possibly due to efforts by police to make Prague more palatable to tourist eyes (but not really addressing the problem). According to Sumegh, the number of youth helped by his organization has not fallen in the last eleven years. If that is the case and the birth rate is declining, then it seems likely that the percentage of the population affected by such problems has actually risen slightly.
Even more disturbing results were hinted at by a new study Vaníčková will carry out in cooperation with UNICEF. This study will survey "students at secondary schools at Cheb, in the west of the Czech Republic &mdash a town which has become infamous as a magnet for paedophiles seeking child sex partners. A survey of secondary school children in the town, co-sponsored by UNICEF in 2005, showed 43 percent regarded prostitution as an opportunity for people without qualifications and 14 percent said they had been offered cash for sex."
These towns are close to the border with Germany. Many people (not Czechs, but foreigners) I have talked with say they have actually witnessed many scantily clad girls at the roadside as soon as drives across the border from Germany into the Czech Republic. Czech Radio's English-language "magazine" section discusses the situation in the (rather unfortunately apellated) town of Aš:
The town of As, near the German border, made headlines at the beginning of this year when it erected unique traffic style road signs &mdash red lips on a white background &mdash to tell drivers where prostitution is permitted and where it is off-limits. The signs immediately became a collectors' item &mdash and they disappeared as fast as the town put them up. "Yes, a lot of them have been stolen," the town's mayor Dalibor Blazek says, and we are not sure for how much longer we will continue to replace them. Maybe we will try just once again." As installed the signs after the locals protested that prostitutes should not be allowed near schools and children's playgrounds. Although prostitution is not banned many towns have attempted to restrict it to selected areas. As chose the red lips traffic signs as an international language since many clients are from Austria and Germany.
The problem here is not only the trade itself. Considering how widespread the activities are, it is surprising how little attention the issue receives in the Czech press. The above excerpt illustrates this relativism that barely covers rather sinister undertones. Prostitution (the problem) was not "the scoop" of the above story, but the humorous theft of the roadsigns (a response) was. The Czech press reports on Prague as a sex tourism destination, foreign managers who are indicted for wasting their expense accounts on over-priced Prague brothels, conjecture about the sexual orientation of individuals employed in the adult film industry, or sometimes even deny that economic factors force people to find employ as sex workers. I am all for journalism objectivism if they insist on holding on to an illusion, but these stories relegate the issue to a light blurb to be read over morning coffee or perhaps pointed out in a "happenings" column. Overall the press here seems even more ambivalent to these issues than I was in my earlier post about videochats.
Further: The story was circulated by AFP (Agence France-Presse) and also reported in SAWF News Connection. The illustration for this post was taken from Czech Radio's story and shows the road signs in question.
Tags: Czech, sociology, UNICEF, prostitution, sitemeter