“They offered each of us 5 € to have sex with them” say three Slovak students who worked as waitresses in Italy. “Nobody has ever degraded us so much. Are we prostitutes, or what?” they ask in anger, obviously unable to let go of the feelings this event evoked in them. And for experiences like this, one does not have to go to the West. Prague itself is a well-known destination for young British men who are looking for lots of fun for little money. And cheap sex is as much a part of Prague as is its Castle.
International troops add to the problem
The large number of Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish and Czech girls and women working in the red-light districts of “Old Europe” are perhaps the reason for the reputation of all eastern European females as prostitutes. They all left to find luck, but while some knew that they would be making money carrying out the oldest craft, others were lured into it by the prospect of success in modelling, hostessing or advertising. While the first category is protected by the European Court of Justice, as the service they provide is work like any other, the second do not have any rights. Betrayed and without documents, they become the property of pimps, who can order them to have intercourse without condoms or even during pregnancy. The only way out of this life of blackmail and rape is escape. That, unfortunately, often ends up in the betrayal of the prostitutes by their supposed rescuers who return them to pimps waiting with open arms. Worse still is that in countries where international forces are stationed to ‘keep the peace’, the soldiers’ frequentation of prostitutes contributes to human trafficking, leaving the women they are supposed to be helping trapped as prostitutes. For example, according to a report by Amnesty International earlier this year, “since the deployment in July 1999 of an international peacekeeping force (KFOR), Kosovo has become a major destination country for women and girls trafficked into forced prostitution”. It is a well-known fact that human trafficking pays well and does not threaten the involved as much as the drug business does.
Follow your dreams, Cinderella
Falling into the nets cast by the traffickers is easy because, whether we are Czechs, Romanians or Poles, we are bombed by promises of high salaries and social amelioration abroad. At home we are offered unsatisfying jobs; or none at all. The problem is that the majority of the pre-Enlargement EU member states have not opened up their work markets, despite our accession. As a result, students who go West looking for summer jobs often end up working illegally for 10-12 hours a day for as little as 700 € per month. Upon their return, they have experience but no money, and much of what they have earned goes to employment agencies to pay their registration fees. Moreover, it is often through agencies like these that young women find work in western Europe as au-pairs, models and hostesses, and risk falling into the world of prostitution. For example, take the recent scandal surrounding the prestigious Slovak-Czech hostessing agency Eli, which promised its young employees financial independence, travelling opportunities, cooperation with top photographers and make-up artists. I went through try-outs myself and everything seemed to be fine… but it was only after girls signed a contract and had photos for their portfolio taken that they were forced into prostitution. This agency is worth a great deal of money, and if the girls refused to become VIP prostitutes they were forced to pay ‘debts’ for services provided. Pimps, you see, do not operate in the streets anymore but in luxurious offices.
Heads in the sand
Unfortunately, in central and eastern Europe there is insufficient information on human trafficking for the purpose of illegal prostitution. There has been some improvement in last few years, but it is from abroad that we learn the most about OUR prostitutes. In order to report on this problem properly and combat it effectively, we will first have to admit that it really exists. But ignorance is bliss...