The news website iDnes has reported that a percentage of Czech students have chosen work in the sex trade to make more money, fast. That at least is the initial attraction, says NGO Rozkoš bez rizika (Bliss without Risk) which counsels sex workers. The underlying message for any young woman considering this line of work? It is anything but easy and there is always a cost.
“As an organization when we provide health services during clients’ entry examination, we ask about their educational level and some of them answer that they are still students. Around 15-20 percent of some 2,000 clients are, so that means around 200 - 300 are still in school. We don’t ask more to protect their privacy but based on their age we can guess whether they are at university or still in high school.”
What are the factors contributing to these young women’s decision to go into prostitution?
“Money, of course, demands for money. Some students have good family backgrounds and have money while some of these girls don’t. They want to enjoy student life and student parties but they don’t have the funds and some find jobs on offer too menial or boring and they discover they can make much more in the sex trade.”
iDnes reported that some of these women choose to enter the sex trade abroad; are there greater risks for students working in this business in other countries? Language limitations, lack of familiarity with a new environment and so on?
“In the Czech Republic approximately half of the customers are foreigners. And in Prague it is between 70 – 80 percent. So many of the women I know, they know at least basic English or German, so I don’t think it is a problem for them if they go abroad. They are used to communicating in foreign languages so I don’t think it is a big change for them.”
Generally-speaking, do some of these students choose the sex trade because they have gone abroad, as there is less chance of being recognized and being stuck with the social stigma? They can keep it separate from their families or friends…
“If we look at Prague, most of the women doing this business are also from somewhere else. Usually they are not Prague residents. I don’t think that anonymity is the only factor; women thinking about getting into this business search the internet for the best offer or they are brought in by a friend.”
This is inherently a risky business – although I imagine some things have improved – these women are still vulnerable…
“We know that the most of the violence which happens is from the customer. I would warn any girls thinking about working in prostitution or other areas of the sex trade that we did a big study about this which showed that only 10 percent of women in the business had not suffered violence or abuse. This is what can be expected.
“Almost all of the women interviewed faced some form of violence: from insults and threats and swearing to pinching and the painful twisting of nipples to forced sex without a condom. They have faced all kinds of violence, including the behavior of jealous partners who kick or beat them and behave very poorly towards them.”
“Meanwhile with third parties, such as brothel owners, there is less physical violence, but more economical: they withhold pay, or fine them or basically take all kinds of steps to make it hard for the women to get out of the business. And getting out is the biggest problem.”
The message is that the rewards may seem great but there are great psychological and physical risks and the outcome is far from certain.
“Yes. This is not an easy profession. That is what I would tell any young woman considering prostitution.”
In the Czech Republic, how does your organization help?
“We have social workers in the terrain who have face-to-face contact with sex workers. If they see someone is in trouble, they invite them for an individual meeting, therapy, we help them with debts and with the family. This is the kind of help we can provide, we have the know-how for that. And if we can’t solve the problem we are part of a broader network so we can get the person somewhere they can.”
If we return to the segment of prostitutes who are also students, I read there that the greatest risk of course is whether they even finish…
“That’s it. I have worked with some of these young women and I try and impress upon them that they really need to try and finish school. And for those who are studying to not use sex as a tool in the classroom (such as seducing the assistant professor) or wearing inappropriate clothes. Also, I tell them that while they are admired now, in two years they will not be adored as they are at the beginning as customers want fresh faces. They have to realize they are still in school, that it is not their job.”
So the lines between the profession and regular life get blurred…
“Yes. If they get through and finish school they are very thankful. With school behind them, they feel much more confident about the future.”
When it comes to happy endings, do women you have helped – who have successfully gotten out of the business – keep in touch at least for a while?
“Actually, not much, usually. We did research where we tried to contact about 150 women who hadn’t attended our centre in Prague more than three years. Only 15 of them still had the same phones and wanted to talk to us. So usually, when girls stop they want to cut all connections. They have new families and they want to leave their past behind. This is a window period in their lives and they don’t want to talk about what they went through anymore as in 'This is what happened, it was my past, but now I am living my new life'.”