This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Hana Pazderová from Rozkos bes Rizika (“Pleasure without Risk”), a Czech NGO which has been working for nearly thirty years to improve the situation of prostitutes and status of sexual workers in the Czech Republic.
Hello Hana, thanks for sitting down with us! Could you first tell us a bit about your organization, Rozkos bes Rizika?
ROZKOŠ bez RIZIKA is a non-profit organization founded in 1992. Our mission is to improve the position and situation of sex workers in the Czech Republic and to provide social and healthcare services to prevent and lower the risks related to providing paid sexual services.
We operate street-work programs in 12 regions of the Czech Republic (we don’t operate in the Plzeň and Karlovy Vary regions), and intervene in all the main hotspots of the sexual industry (clubs, private homes, outdoor locations, etc.), as well as via a mobile ambulance. We also provide, through our R-R centers in Prague, Brno, Ostrava and Ceske Budejovice, professional social counselling nation-wide, as well as legal support and counselling in the 12 regions covered by our field programs. Women can also use the services in one of the doctors’ offices where we operate R-R centers.
What’s the situation of the sex industry in the Czech Republic today? Do we know how many prostitutes there are?
According to the estimates, it is presumed that, in 2019, there were between 12,000 and 13,000 sexual workers offering paid services in the Czech Republic. Our organisation is in active and regular contact with about 2,500 women. And approximately 75% of the women we meet are Czech.
Vulnerable and difficult living conditions are the main factors that push some women into choosing to become prostitutes: many of them have an unstable work situation, and about 60% of them are single mothers with two or more children to take care of. For these people, prostitution is a very flexible way to make a living.
How about the clients? Is there a stereotypical profile of customers seeking the services of prostitutes in the Czech Republic?
The range and profile of customers is incredibly diverse, but they’ve only got one thing in common: the sexual drive and the will to pay for it. Apart from this, their profile – as well as the type of women or sexual services they are looking for – can be very different from one customer to the next.
Customers often have a very hard time communicating to the women what they really want, an awkwardness which might lead to situations where they demand something that has not been agreed upon, paving the way for conflict and sometimes physical violence. Another quite logical common feature is that customers value and demand privacy, which is partly why the sexual business is increasingly occurring in private flats, out of the public space.
What are the biggest risks for prostitutes in the Czech Republic?
Sex workers very often become the target of insults, humiliation, as well as physical violence and unprotected sex. However, only a tiny minority, about 7%, of these cases are referred to the police. Prostitutes, who often use nicknames to protect their privacy, are often reluctant to contact law enforcement authorities, where they face strong negative stigma. Admitting to being the victim of violence remains a very big problem.
In many cases, women actually spend more time and energy keeping their identity secret than on their personal and physical safety. It’s as if social stigma was a bigger threat than an actual slap in the face. An important part of our work is to address their health needs. Apart from counselling on safe and protected sex, they can get tested for HIV, syphilis or hepatitis C, as well as visit our counselling centres for a complete health check. Many girls decide to use our services after bad experiences with other doctors and clinics.
What is the legal situation of prostitution today in the Czech Republic?
According to the current legislation, prostitution is neither allowed nor banned in the Czech Republic. There’s actually no national legal definition of prostitution and sexual work, despite long-running discussions at the political level.
People offering paid sexual services cannot really be punished for it, unless they are offering sexual services near schools or educational institutions where children might be involved. Czech law only prohibits procuring, as well as human trafficking.
What should be done at the legislative level to improve the situation of prostitutes in the Czech Republic?
We believe that sexual workers should have the same rights as anybody else, which sadly seems to be very complicated to achieve – due to deeply-entrenched stigma that give rise to many false and negative attitudes towards prostitutes and sexual workers, often described as “fallen” or “lost” women, as well as bad mothers. We should simultaneously focus on amending the legislation and promoting the destigmatization of sexual workers.
We believe that women should at least get a chance to provide paid sexual services as self-employment, which they currently can’t do under Czech law. And this should be the first step towards legalisation. If our laws keep ignoring the phenomenon of voluntary prostitution, we can’t move any further. As with any other legal process, rights and obligations need to come hand-in-hand.
Are there any examples of legislation/practices abroad that the Czech Republic could emulate?
At Rozkos bez Rizika, we believe that currently the best model is to decriminalize prostitution, but that’s in the hands of politicians.
Regardless of the legal framework, what more could be done?
According to the estimates, there are about 13,000 women working as sexual workers and prostitutes in the Czech Republic. Adding the number of clients, that means that a relatively high amount of Czechs are directly touched or affected by the sexual industry. We believe that the most important thing is to respect the choice of others: are we really in a position to be the judge of someone according to the job he or she has? It’s also important to open up the topic in the media and launch a public discussion on prostitution, including to show people how stigmas can affect – and sometimes endanger – sexual workers.
How was your work been affected by the coronavirus crisis?
Our organisation is focused on the long-term mitigation of the risks related to sexual services. When the crisis hit, we recommended to our clients (both male and female) to stop offering paid sexual services considering the multiple risks posed by the pandemic: the risk of getting infected, of course, but also of being fined for disobeying quarantine and lockdown regulations, and the risks of legal prosecution if sexual workers happen to infect some of their customers.
Women reacted to this situation very differently, depending on their own personal and family situations. Some of them have tried to find other sources of income and are even considering abandoning sex work altogether.
For many others, the situation has been much more complicated, and their entire livelihood has been put in jeopardy after they were forced to stop working. We try to help women solve and overcome their situation on a case-by-case basis, at least temporarily, by given them material support for instance. If they really insist on continuing their activity, we stress all the health and legal risks they’re exposing themselves to.