Prostitutes, sex workers and honest citizens: politics of prostitution in the Czech Republic

After the frontiers were opened in 1989 and the law outlawing prostitution was abolished in 1990, the number of prostitutes grew massively in the Czech Republic. During the 1990s, prostitution was constructed by the most influential actors (experts and politicians) as an important social pathology, and the prostitutes, the pimps and the clients as foreigners, coming from abroad, or ethnically different – simply “the others”, not “us”. This construction lead to the polarisation of actors in the issue: the “us”, honest citizens, properly paying taxes and insurances and raising our children, and “them” – those who disturb the public order and abuse the health care and welfare system. The “them” category was not further deconstructed in the experts and politicians discourses – even though the knowledge of the differences between prostitution with and without consent was already available. The legislation then mirrored this division and concentrated only on the possibilities of preserving the public order and of raising the taxes from the sex business.

The paper focuses on the discursive framings of prostitution and prostitutes by the most influential actors in the Czech Republic, with the main focus on the construction of the “otherness” of the prostitutes. I will show how this construction of sex-workers as non-citizens (that influenced the policy making of prostitution in the Czech Republic in the past 20 years) aligns with the state-socialist frame of prostitution as “non-work”, and what role played the nationality and ethnicity of prostitutes in the 1990s-2000s public discourse. I will also demonstrate how this framing was deconstructed by women’s groups and NGOs working with sex workers.
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Radka Dudova