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Prostitution ban is constitutional

The breakthrough March 8 ruling from the Constitutional Court in Brno gives local municipalities the right to regulate where prostitutes find clients, to protect the “moral development” of children who witness streetwalkers. But many local mayors say such ordinances barely help the problem, since prostitution is mainly practiced on private property.

The court ruling has, however, sparked renewed debate on what the role of the state should be in shaping the Czech Republic’s notorious sex industry.

Until now, the constitutionality of local ordinances limiting street prostitution has been in question. Jan Kubata, mayor of Ústí nad Labem, north Bohemia, updated regulations to ban public prostitution (and other public nuisances) in 2004, but the Interior Ministry attacked the decision in the Constitutional Court. The March 8 ruling saw Kubata, and other mayors who support bans, triumph.

“It is a breakthrough decision, but it is by no means an all-saving decision,” Kubata said. “It would be great if we had a law on prostitution regulation.” Such a law could impose rules on the trade, tax sex workers and require health checkups, he said.

Citing potential damage to the moral development of children, who may see prostitutes offering their services, the court ruled that towns may take one of three tacks: ban sex services in all public areas, create zones where street prostitution is allowed, or not regulate it at all.

Petr Pípal, mayor of Dubí, a border town known for its sex industry, has opted to zone prostitution. But he also sees the measure as inadequate.

“These kinds of rulings are only a consequence of the nonexistence of a law on prostitution. It would be far more effective to have a clear definition and regulation,” he said.

Teplice mayor Jaroslav Kubera said he would like the Interior Ministry pass a law that would require prostitutes to pay a tariff and to see a doctor every three months in order to be licensed to sell sex.

“The only thing the court said was that prostitution is not described in any Czech law and therefore towns have a right to regulate as they want to,” he said.

Even without a national law, the number of street prostitutes seems to be on the decline, the mayors said. “It is receding into the background. You should have been here in 1990 or 1991,” Jan Svoboda, mayor of Cheb, said, alluding to the heyday of sex tourism along the border.

Behind closed doors

As some commend the ruling, others are disappointed. Pushing prostitution behind closed doors incurs other problems, according to Hana Malinová, director of Rozkoš bez rizika (Bliss Without Risk), a group that provides health and other services to prostitutes.

“Expelling the girls out from the cities would expose them to more danger,” Malinová said.

Communities of street prostitutes are able to look out for one another and warn women away from dangerous clients, said Petra Burčíková, who works with La Strada, a group that fights human trafficking. Also, police have more contact with street prostitutes and are better able to help them, she said.

Furthermore, if a town bans public prostitution, it is the sex workers themselves — not the pimps who control them — who would be prosecuted, she added.

Some women who work the streets may not be attractive enough for brothels and their families depend on their income for basic necessities, Malinová said. “For girls, it takes away one option.”

As for the morality of public prostitution, Malinová points out that prostitutes who stand behind glass barriers (which are not considered public) often wear less clothing than women on the street.

Enforcing the ban on public prostitution has been easy enough. Pípal, the Dubí mayor, said a warning from police will disperse prostitutes.

“We don’t have a problem with street prostitution. The problem is brothels in residential areas,” he said. These houses disrupt neighborhoods with their constant traffic and unchecked activity.

“From our experience, the law is needed, but the lawmakers are sort of keeping their hands off it,” Pípal said.

The Prague Post, Czech Republic