A group of MPs in the lower house are drafting a new bill on legalising prostitution – the third such attempt in recent years. Prostitution in the Czech Republic exists in a sort of legal grey area; prostitution itself is not illegal, but most of the infrastructure surrounding it - brothels, pimping and so on – is.
Czech politicians have grappled for years with the thorny problem of how to regulate the world’s oldest profession, which has become one of the true growth industries in the country since the fall of communism. ‘Erotic clubs’, escort services and massage parlours have flourished in Prague and areas bordering Austria and Germany. They operate strictly within the letter of the law – legally advertising entertainment, company or relaxation, as opposed to openly offering sex. But no-one’s in any doubt what’s really for sale, or at least easily available nearby.
There is of course a dark side to the trade, including violence and coercion, human trafficking, criminal gangs, child prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases. Unregulated prostitution also deprives the state of huge sums of money in uncollected taxes.
A group of MPs from the governing Civic Democrat and LIDEM parties are therefore drafting a bill – described by its authors as simpler and more straightforward than previous attempts. Under the law prostitution would become a legal trade, requiring those who conduct it to apply for an annual licence, file tax returns and – crucially for local authorities, especially in the border regions – agree to practice it only in permitted areas of a city or town.
The authors of the bill say prostitutes would enjoy greater protection from pimps and more respect from the authorities. Sex workers would, for example, be able to take a brothel owner to court for failing to pay them for their services. Unlike previous bills, prostitutes would not have to register with their local authority. There would be no central database of those permitted to ply their trade. Generally there would be less repression and more reward for those who decided to go legal.
Can this bill succeed where two previous attempts – one approved by the government – fail? Certainly there is a chance. The bill enjoys some cross-party support, and is backed by some organisations who work with victims of the sex trade. However they have flagged up potential problems; it’s hard to imagine, one said, local councils and prostitutes agreeing on a location which would be acceptable to both sides.