Compared to ten years ago, the number of Czech men willing to pay for sex has rocketed. Night clubs in Prague attract many foreigners-including the numerous British stag party groups passing through the city-but Czech men now make up half of the clients in Prague's sex trade establishments. Since most men tend to believe that women practicing prostitution are willing participants, the Ministry of the Interior and the International Organization for Migration are planning to launch a joint awareness campaign beginning in May.


Since the fall of communism, the border areas of the Czech Republic have become a focal point for prostitution. The daily Mlada fronta Dnes reports that roughly 80% of the clients in border regions are still foreigners, mostly from Austria and Germany. So, come May, the Znojmo region in southern Moravia and the Plzen region in western Bohemia will be the first targets of a new campaign drawing attention to the trafficking of women. The awareness campaign, which is to be launched by the Czech Interior Ministry and the International Organization for Migration will aim to dispel the myth that most prostitutes participate in the trade willingly.

Jitka Gjuricova, the Director of the Crime Prevention Department at the Interior Ministry, is one of the initiators of the upcoming campaign. I asked her how the Czech Republic figures in the regional sex trade business.

"The Czech Republic is a source country, which means that people are taken from here abroad. We are also a transit country because we link the poor east to the wealthy west. However, we're also a destination country, because as far as the prices of sexual services are concerned, the costs here are very reasonable for clients from the west. The economy is still on a different level than in Germany or Austria, for example, so the prices here can be a third less, though lately they've also been rising-since we entered the EU."

Although the Czech economy still lags behind its western neighbours, the paper Mlada fronta Dnes reports that Czechs spend an astonishing 3 billion crowns per year on commercial sex trade services. In short, the sex trade is a booming business in the Czech Republic.

Surveys also show that over the past decade, Czech attitudes to commercial sex have evolved: in 1993 only 9% of men admitted that they had experience with sex for payment, and today the numbers show that 14% of Czech men have hired a prostitute. These figures indicate that the Czech Republic scores well above the European average, which hovers somewhere around 10% in other EU countries.

Lucie Sladkova, the Director of the International Organisation for Migration in Prague, believes that not enough men understand the problem of women trafficked into the sex trade industry-and the new campaign will target these potential customers. She explains who, exactly, is trafficked into the Czech Republic:

"If we talk about the Czech Republic as a destination country, more and more of the girls are from the former Soviet Union, or Russian-speaking countries. Mainly Moldova, Ukraine, but also from European countries like Bulgaria and Romania."

How does the trade of women happen here? Who is running the show? Is this a Czech operation-that is, Czech men who are involved as the pimps, or are there foreigners involved in this happening as well?

"Since we are now talking about organized crime networks, there are always Czech men or agencies involved, because when you recruit you must have the local knowledge. So the whole chain, or organized network, may not be of Czech origin, but there are local agencies involved because you have to have the information that is specific to the Czech situation." The Ministry of the Interior and the IOM hope that their new campaign will help curb the trafficking of women. Men will be encouraged to report incidents of abused girls to an anonymous telephone line which will begin functioning in May.

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