Prague proposes to ‘legalise prostitution’ – again

The city of Prague is once again talking about legalising brothels and requiring prostitutes to register if they want to work independently I gave an interview to The Prague Post the other day that is reported in Wednesday’s story. This sort of proposal dates from the 19th century; belongs to a thoroughly patriarchal and sexist impulse and fails to address the enormous range of sex work and businesses that nowadays flourish everywhere. Brothels don’t have to be bad but they can’t be good if they are conceived of this way. My comments are in bold within the article.

Prague considers legalizing prostitution

City Council seeks to regulate, license and tax sex workers

Benjamin Cunningham, 15 September 2010, The Prague Post

The Prague City Council will consider a bill to legalize prostitution at its Sept. 16 meeting. Since the fall of communism, prostitution has existed in a legal gray area, and changes proposed by Deputy Mayor Rudolf Blažek will seek, among other things, to legalize and license prostitution but contain it to brothels or private homes.

“It’s a possibility to step out of the black market and [for prostitutes] to include themselves in the standard business regime,” Blažek told The Prague Post. “Regulating prostitution and embedding it in the legal system would give more effective tools so the scene would not be as uncontrolled as it is now.”

This is not the first time government officials have considered similar steps. In fact, Blažek himself proposed comparable changes as early as 2001. In 2003, City Hall and the Interior Ministry again sought such changes, but among the deal-breakers was the requirement that the Czech Republic withdraw its signature from the 1950 UN Convention for the Suppression in the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. Such a move requires parliamentary approval, which was not forthcoming at the time. The City Council will formally request that Parliament take such a step now.

The debate about how to legislate the world’s so-called oldest profession sparks passions across the political spectrum, and Blažek is finding both allies and opponents.

“We think it would really help this field,” said “Honza,” a manager at the K5 brothel near náměstí Míru, where the average per-hour rate is 3,900 Kč and between 18 and 25 women work each evening.

Hana Malínová, director of Bliss Without Risk (Rozkoš bez rizika), an NGO that works with female sex workers, has some misgivings about the proposal. “Although it represents a certain shift from repression toward business regulation, the proposal still contains excessively repressive elements reflecting the negative attitude toward persons providing paid sexual services,” she said. “Whether we call these women prostitutes or female sex workers, the work in this business is still stigmatizing. Most women will continue to prevent their names from being published, which is what this official registration represents.

There are an estimated 70 active brothels in Prague, more than 30 of which are in the immediate vicinity of Wenceslas and Old Town squares, but authorities admit they have little grasp on the big picture. “We have no data available, not even approximate data, despite considerable efforts in the past to map the prostitution scene,” said Interior Ministry spokesman . . .

“None of the systems are effective,” said Laura Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. “Vast numbers of people who have the right to register with governments don’t, and undocumented migrants are always excluded from these programs. In Europe, at least half of those working in prostitution are migrants.”Male sex workers are almost completely ignored in policies related to prostitution, she added.

Malínová said that “nowhere, not even in Austria or Holland, has the number of women registered exceeded 10 percent.”

Agustín finds it impossible to deal with prostitution without dealing with larger issues of migration. She shuns the popular term “human trafficking” and what she says are the inflated statistics that accompany it.

“I don’t find it useful to use those big, loaded terms. The word ‘trafficking’ is up there with ‘terrorism,’ ” she said. “The idea that anyone selling sex is being exploited is an ideological point of view. Enormous numbers of migrants knew they would be doing something like that when they migrated; now, that doesn’t mean they knew how it was going to feel.”

. . . Blažek’s proposal is predicated on containing prostitution in so-called public houses or brothels, an idea Agustín considers a nonstarter. “A brothel is a 19th-century concept,” she said. “It’s a large place with some sort of manager. The concept discounts prostitutes working in a postmodern entrepreneurial sort of way, which is the reality.” . .

The proposal from City Hall

  • Prostitution will become a legal business based on licensed trade certificates
  • Anyone older than 18 can get a license with a health examination, and it is issued by the municipality on a yearly basis
  • The license includes a photograph and name and can be renewed with regular health screenings
  • Prostitution without a license would be considered a misdemeanor
  • Prostitution can only take place in brothels or private homes
  • Street prostitution is banned, but municipalities are empowered to grant exceptions
  • Brothels require permission from the municipality

Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

2 thoughts on “Prague proposes to ‘legalise prostitution’ – again

  1. Dave

    I’m not sure what purpose the licensing requirement serves. You don’t need licensing to encourage, or even mandate, health examinations. And licensing implies that you need to get permission from the state to work. I’m not a big fan of government databases (which is what licensing creates), especially when they target an aspect of human activity that is subject to perpetual attack by moral crusaders.

    If there is one thing the internet has done, it’s empower people to assess the benefits and risks of engaging in a transaction without a scintilla of government involvement or certification. I get more information from Amazon and Ebay reviews in a day than I have ever gotten from any consumer protection organization, governmental or private.

    I wonder what percentage of women have ever traded sex for something of value that they wanted. My guess is that the actual number would be far larger than the number of women who would admit to it (which is a sad fact by itself). Should they all be licensed? In advance? Or should you only need a license if you get cash (as opposed to say, an apartment) or if the equivalent monetary values exceeds some amount?

    When does your sex life cross the line from being your own business to being a commercial enterprise operating under rules created by the whim of government?

    There I go gettin’ all preachy again…

  2. laura agustin Post author

    hello dave, not preachy at all, quite interesting.

    apart from what we know about the licensing impulse in this case, to question licensing in general would be to question whether any professionals need it. psychotherapists? acupuncturists? or should anyone be allowed to hang up a sign saying they are professionals simply because they do the work for money? the argument is that you will make sure people are properly trained first, which means you have some criteria for deciding what proper training is.

    in the case of sex work, there’s a contradiction, because few authorities want to admit it can be skilled labour. thus the swiss legislation i mention in today’s post is significant.


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