Prague set to ban street prostitution, but is that the main problem?

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On Tuesday, Prague City Hall unveiled new plans to banish prostitution from the capital’s streets. As of January 2008, prostitutes caught offering their services in Prague’s public spaces could face weighty fines, and will be banned from the area. But women’s groups have asked whether the City Hall’s new decree goes far enough.

By day, Wenceslas Square is a fairly normal Prague thoroughfare. Tourists take photos of the statues and architecture, and shoppers nip in and out of the department stores.

But Wenceslas Square at night has an altogether seedier feel to it. Prostitutes and pimps are clearly visible at the corner of every street, particularly near the top of the square.

This is what Prague City Hall would like to put a stop to with its new decree. Under the new regulations, prostitutes offering their services in public places could face a fine of up to 30,000 CZK (1,500 USD). Police will also have the right to ban sex workers from the area, on the grounds that prostitution is a disturbance of the peace.

Petra Burcikova is the head of La Strada, an organization which fights against people trafficking. I asked her whether she thought this new decree would prove effective:

“As the City Hall basically says, extracting fines from sex workers is usually not very effective, but at least they can order them to leave public places. This has already been tried in many other cities and municipalities, and I don’t have information showing that this will prove very effective.”

Mrs Burcikova can see the initiative as having two possible outcomes:

“Either [the prostitution] stays where it is, and the sex workers will try to find ways to avoid sanctions, or it will really be moved to some of the areas that are remote and inaccessible. It is important to keep in mind that this increases the danger and threat to the sex workers themselves. This is something that most people, and most councilors, don’t take into account. This increases sex workers’ health risks and even risk of death tremendously.”

Prostitution is illegal in the Czech Republic. But Prague has still come to be known abroad as a destination for sex tourism. This new decree doesn’t affect the city’s 58 brothels, which the deputy mayor Rudolf Blazek has said are beyond the council’s legislation. For this reason, Mrs. Burcikova thinks that the new decree falls short:

“The aim or objective of this whole measure is just to clean the streets, it’s not so much about putting some rules into the business. This is clearly only an issue of cleaning the streets, because some people might be complaining about this.”