Veronika Čáslavová: sex trafficking still a taboo topic in Czechia

Illustrative photo: David Selsky, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to official data, around ten Czech women fall victim to sex trafficking each year, but the real number could actually be much higher. Veronika Čáslavová, a student of International Relations and Security and Strategic Studies at the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno, who has been mapping the phenomenon for several years now, says it still remains largely unexplored.

Veronika Čáslavová,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
I met with Ms Čáslavová to discuss the problem of sex trafficking in the Czech Republic and I started by asking her what sparked her interest in the subject:

“Actually, Czechs don’t like to talk about sex trafficking or human trafficking and we don’t talk about prostitution either. I think this is a major problem, because sex trafficking exists and women are being exploited.

“So when I realised there was such a thing as sex trafficking, I felt the need to talk about it. When I came across the issue for the first time, it was really hard for me to imagine that the problem was real, that those women were really kidnapped, exploited and so on.

“So I was shocked, but at the same time I wanted to study the problem deeper to understand it better.”

How did you carry out your research? Where did you gather the information?

“My research is based on data from the Ministry of Interior, who cooperate with the police. So those are official numbers, which record victims not only of sex trafficking, but of human trafficking in general.

“Most of these people are involved in programmes that assist the victims of such crimes. So the research is based on that.

“I have been mapping the phenomenon since the 1990s, but official data has only been available since 2001.

“I also cooperated with the Czech branch of Caritas, who let me read some of the stories of the actual victims of sex trafficking.”

Do the official numbers differ from figures provided by NGOs, which are in direct contact with the victims?

“That’s another issue. We have a lot of different numbers, but none of them are complete. The ministry has its own official statistics, each NGO has its own data and they don’t really share it with each other. So it’s really hard to map the number of actual victims these days.

“Another problem connected with that is the fact that prostitution in the Czech Republic is neither legal nor illegal at the moment. So it is really difficult to distinguish between sex trafficking, willing prostitution and prostitution against the women’s will.”

So based on your data, how serious is the problem of sex trafficking in the Czech Republic? How many women fall victims to the trade annually?

“Annually it is around ten, which doesn’t look like a high number, but that’s only the women we know about. There could be many more Czech women abroad and many more foreign women here in the Czech Republic.

“I spoke to a police officer who focuses on the problem of illegal prostitution. He says that nowadays, a major problem in the Czech Republic is the Vietnamese community.

“They are really closed, they are isolated and no one really knowns what is going on inside the community. So there is a suspicions that sex trafficking is organised by the Vietnamese community. “

And is the Czech Republic more of an import or an export country?

Illustrative photo: David Selsky,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“This is a common question. It used to be more of an export country, but nowadays it is almost fifty-fifty.

“Some of our Czech girls are ‘exported’ to foreign countries. However, it is not Germany, as it used to be in the 1990s, when the prostitution boom began. Nowadays it is mostly Great Britain and Ireland.

“When we talk about girls brought to the Czech Republic, it has always been Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia and Slovakia, but nowadays also come across women from more exotic countries, such as the Philippines. But of course most of them still come from the former Eastern Bloc.”

Who are the typical victims of sex trafficking here in the Czech Republic?

“Usually the victim is a woman who is not in a secure social position. For example girls from children’s homes or women who are unemployed, who lost their husbands or single mothers.

“But most often they are young women who want better lives and they believe that the men they have met and who have promised them a better life will actually fulfil their promise.

“So usually at first they go willingly, thinking that they will do babysitting or work in a bar. By the time they realize what is happening, the organised group have taken away their passport and they are not able to contact anyone.”

So once these women find themselves in such a situation, how hard is it for them to escape and seek help?

“The most usual way is when they go to see a doctor, because doctors can easily distinguish any signs of violence or rape. It is up to the women how much they trust the doctor and how much they tell them.

“Sometimes they manage to escape and subsequently contact an NGO in the country. In case of Caritas Czech Republic, its main advantage is that it is not only on the Czech Republic, but has a network around the globe.

“Once a victim seeks help in a charity in Great Britain, for example, it is really easy to transfer her back to the Czech Republic since the individual branches cooperate with each other.”

You mentioned Great Britain and Ireland being among the popular target countries of sex traffickers at the moment. Can you give us any specific story you came across when carrying out your research?

“One example is a girl who was sold by her mother to Great Britain. It was either to a Pakistani or an Afghan man. It is quite common not only for Czech girls to be sold to them or to be forced into a marriage with them.

“Also, the Pakistani and Afghani communities play an important role in the sex trafficking problem in Great Britain.

“So this girl was sold by her mother because they needed money. She managed to escape and when she got back, her mother sold her for a second time. But that’s all I can reveal about her.”

What is the penalty of sex trafficking in this country?

“Sex trafficking is being persecuted as trafficking in human beings, but it differs, depending on whether he crime was committed by one person or an organised group. In the latter case, the penalty is higher. I came across a case when a man got ten years for trafficking his partner for almost eight years.”

Illustrative photo: counselling,  Pixabay
Why don’t we have effective legislation? Is it because prostitution in the Czech Republic is neither legal nor illegal?

“That’s the main problem. I think the biggest issue we are dealing with is the fact that it is taboo, just like rape or any type of violence against women. But men are victims too, not as frequently, but they are.

“This type of violence is not popular and nobody wants to talk about it. I am not saying the government and political representatives have not been dealing with the problem, but so far we haven’t had any results.

“The Czech Republic recently debated the Istanbul Convention to end the violence against women and although we have signed it, it still hasn’t been ratified by the government. So it is not a popular topic and nobody wants to talk about it.

“Also we don’t have the legislation dealing with prostitution and this legal vacuum is really a big issue.

What can be done instead to improve the situation?

“We can talk about the problem, which is a simple and sensitive thing to do. We must acknowledge that the problem is here. It doesn’t concern only people without money and education. It can happen to anyone.

“I think that just like most problems in the society, it starts with us. We need to realize the problem is here and pay attention to NGOs that help the victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence. That’s my opinion.”