It's 11:00pm and I'm standing in the lower half of Prague's Vaclavske namesti, or Wenceslaus Square. It is quite a busy intersection as you can hear...and it's also one of the places in Prague with the highest rate of prostitution on offer, or illegal activity in general. In this week's Talking Point we'll have a look at what happens here with illegal migrants and sex workers.
Among the many other changes to take place in the Czech Republic since 1989, this country has been confronted with rising prostitution, and a new phenomenon: the trafficking of people. At the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic, they have established a special Department for Crime Prevention, which deals specifically with illegal migrants and the sex trade. Jitka Gjuricova, the Director of the Crime Prevention Department, explains the situation of the Czech Republic with regards to human trafficking:
"The Czech Republic is a source country, which means that people are taken from here abroad. We are also a transit country because we link the poor east to the wealthy west. However, we're also a destination country, because as far as the prices of sexual services are concerned, the costs here are very reasonable for clients from the west. The economy is still on a different level than in Germany or Austria, for example, so the prices here can be one-third less, though lately they've also been rising—since we entered the EU."
The International Organization for Migration in Prague is one of the key sources of assistance for women who end up in the Czech Republic against their will, or discover upon arrival that promises of a job as an au pair or housekeeper are non-existent, and they are instead expected to work in the sex trade. Lucie Sladkova, who heads the IOM mission in Prague talks about what the situation is like in the Czech Republic with regards to the trafficking of people:
"I would say that the situation in the Czech Republic is similar to other European countries. So, the legislation is in place and there are the provisions within the penal code to prosecute traffickers. There is also a program or kind of referral system to help and assist victims of trafficking. We cooperate with charities, so there are protection services in place in the Czech Republic. Also, we handle the safe return of victims of trafficking to other IOM missions in their home countries, where the protection program is in place, and there are shelters and rehabilitation centres for psychological, medical, or social help, etc."
Is the Czech Republic a transit country for the trafficking of women, or is it a destination country?
"The situation in the Czech Republic—I would call it a destination country, more and more. We owe a lot to foreign women and girls because when IOM Prague managed the Raise Awareness campaign, the target group were Czech women and girls, and there was no information campaign targeting foreign girls and women, and I think that we should do a lot to inform them about the risks and misconceptions that are here in the Czech Republic about the counter-trafficking situation."
It sounds to me like you're describing a shift in terms of location, or the destination of women. So, where are Czech women being trafficked to primarily, and for whom is the Czech Republic a destination country?
"If we speak about Czech girls and women, I have the information that they are mostly trafficked to Italy—at least we have some returns from Italy. Now we have the information from Sweden, from the UK, and also recently we got the information from the Hague. If we talk about the Czech Republic as a destination country, more and more of the girls are from the former Soviet Union, or Russian-speaking countries. Mainly Moldova, Ukraine, but also from European countries like Bulgaria and Romania."
How does the trade of women happen here? Who is running the show? Is this a Czech operation—that is, Czech men who are involved as the pimps, or are there foreigners involved in this happening as well?
"Since we are now talking about the organized crime networks, there are always Czech men or agencies involved, because when you recruit you must have the local knowledge. So the whole chain, or organized network, is not only from Czech origin, but there are local agencies involved because you have to have the information that is specific to the Czech situation."
Could you provide some statistics? How many people are we talking about?
"I don't have any hard data on that, but if we talk about those who were assisted, then for the last two years it was 35 girls and women overall."
What are some of the conditions for assistance to these women?
"The main condition in this referral system or in this program for protection is that they have to cooperate somehow with the Czech police, which means that they should be ready to provide some information and go court and help with the prosecution of traffickers. This is very harsh and could also be a very dangerous condition."
Given that this is a regional problem, what is the IOM doing to promote awareness of the issue of trafficking women and children in the region?
"There is no country in the region that did not participate in the raise awareness campaigns. So, all the IOM offices in the region were providing information through these campaigns. Some of the IOM offices are also service providers, so in some countries there are shelters that are managed by IOM. Here in the Czech Republic we rely on the services of NGOs."
Where the sanctions against such crimes are concerned, Jitka Gjuricova summarizes the situation:
"Abuse of people for the purpose of sexual acts is punishable by several laws in the Czech Republic, and the most severe sentence is 5 years. Our criminal law also addresses human trafficking, and there the harshest sentence is 12 years. Unfortunately, our experience is that criminals don't receive the most severe sentences because there is often a problem proving the case. In one of the latest cases, a woman even testified in court, and despite this her trafficker received only a 2-year sentence. So unfortunately, we have the same experience as in many other states—that is, the maximum sentence is not applied often and the sanctions are not high."
The problem with trafficking in human beings and the sex trade is surely something that the Czech Republic will be battling in the future as well.