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Wednesday, September 9, 1998

Letters from our readers

Sex industry not always what it seems

Dear Editor:
I read your front page news story ["Czech-French raids net sex-slave arrests," July 29] with great interest, but from my own personal experience in the past, I would advise your readers to accept such stories only with the greatest caution.

The report talked of a masterminded "operation" that apparently "exported" women from the Czech Republic to France, where they were "forced to work as prostitutes."

They were also supposedly forced to take drugs, and their children were kept "in separate quarters" and threatened so as to control the mothers.

Whilst I know nothing about this particular case apart from what I have read in your papers, I may be able to shed a little light on it from the time when I, myself, as a teenager in the 1950s, worked as a rent boy [male prostitute] in London, Paris and Frankfurt.

Like many others, I did this for the fun, the excitement, the sex and the money. No one forced me in the slightest; it was entirely of my own free will, and I never heard of anyone else being forced either.

If, however, the police ever became involved, it was a very different story. The choice was then quite simple: Either admit to one's family and friends that one had chosen to become a prostitute (which was then also illegal) and that the story of the "good job abroad" had been a lie; or use the "I was forced into it" routine. I knew of several people who falsely alleged this had happened and, by so doing, were treated by family and the authorities with great sympathy and understanding.

In fact, contrary to widely held popular belief, it is very difficult to force people into prostitution. By the very nature of the work, prostitutes meet dozens of people in total privacy, and any "working" girl or boy will tell you that probably 25 percent of the clients are forever trying to "rescue" you from the life. (It is a standing joke.) But, it would be the simplest thing in the world to ask someone like this to get help. As for the drugs, well prostitutes often have lots of money, lots of free time and a carefree attitude toward narcotics. And, as for the children, where should they be, in the same room with the client?

Of course, no doubt there are girls who are treated badly (just as there are wives who are treated badly), but if such girls remain in a bad situation, there is usually some other explanation (such as their own embarrassment at admitting to their prostitution, or returning home as a "failure"). In the end, the biggest argument against the reality of this oft-repeated 21st century urban myth is the fact that it is totally unnecessary. There are hundreds of young women (and men) throughout Eastern Europe only too ready to take up the work entirely voluntarily and without the slightest force or pressure.

Although, of course, if the police should ask.

Chris Denning
Pankrac Prison, Prague 4

Philanthropy is a long-term investment

Dear Editor:
I read with interest your recent article on corporate giving ["Czech corporations in the giving mood," Aug. 26], since it has been an area of personal involvement for me in Prague for the last several years. The article suggests that Czech corporate giving is on the rise (but then cites Boeing, a U.S. firm, to illustrate the point!). I have not found that to be the case.

My experience in raising sponsorship for the Prague Lions youth sports club is that in order for a prospective sponsor to say "yes" to a proposal, a connection is needed that goes beyond simple business arithmetic. Our sponsoring companies, for example, are generally headed up by people of vision with a touch of the maverick in them. Such people make an emotional commitment to responsibly help build the social infrastructure through their companies. Obviously, they hope that over the years, this will come back to them in terms of business, but it is this long-term view that separates them from many Czech companies more focused on their immediate markets and capital.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Czech owned and managed companies. There are understandable reasons why many struggle with the notion of philanthropic giving. Nevertheless, it is the multi- and international companies that are leading the way at this point in nonprofit-sector giving.

In my mind it will be critical in the next decade for indigenous Czech firms to have the will to help build into their country's social structure. That goes beyond only marketing their product. This concept is presently in its infancy at best. Yet, I think it is a factor that will help decide what level of stability and wholeness future generations of young Czechs will inherit.

Mike Quesnell,
Prague Lions
Prague 4

Three pillars of Czech success

Dear Editor:
I really enjoy your newspaper and its openness, which I find sadly missing in our American papers.

From reading The Prague Post, it is obvious the Czech Republic has a great future for three reasons. First, the leaders are democratic and have stood up with integrity against communist tyranny. Second, the Czech Republic is a democratic capitalist state. Finally, the poor mountainous part of Slovakia is no longer a burden to the Czech region.

John R. Simmons
Cleveland, Ohio

RFE/RL broadcasts need Czech monitoring

Dear Editor:
The comment by Paul A. Goble "Middle East broadcasts aid democracy building," [Aug. 26] is a sad reminder that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) can still produce material capable of deceiving the public about the radio's past and present. A salient flaw in the article is the misleading statement that the radio station "has not been a mouthpiece for U.S. government propaganda," and that RFE/RL "broadcasts then and now are based on the highest standards of journalism."

It is public knowledge that both RFE and RL were founded separately in the 1950s by the Central Intelligence Agency and were run covertly by the CIA until their merger in the 1970s. Throughout the Cold War, they were a major U.S. government fighting force against communism, in which the U.S. government was always deeply involved to make sure that American values of freedom and democracy got through. It is deceptive, to say the least, to try and get around that by using hyperbole like "mouthpiece" and "propaganda."

RFE/RL did indeed strive for "the highest standards of journalism," and many a sterling broadcast helped quench the thirst of nations longing for facts and the truth in the communist information vacuum. However, despite its achievements, RFE/RL has not always been up to the demands of honest journalism, and there have been numerous, shocking violations of journalistic standards throughout RFE/RL history, many of which I personally witnessed during my 30 years of employment.

The Czech government appears to be aware of RFE/RL's shortcomings and is well advised to give careful consideration to RFE/RL's application for permission to broadcast from Prague in Arabic to Iraq. If the government decides to grant permission, Prague should require a written guarantee from the RFE/RL oversight administration in Washington that RFE/RL broadcasts in Arabic will indeed adhere to the highest standards of journalism. In addition, the Czech government would warn RFE/RL in clear, unmistakable terms that Prague will review any Arabic broadcast about which it gets a complaint from any Arab country. Prague should also tell RFE/RL in advance exactly what action the Czech government will take against the radio station if such an Arab complaint is found to justified.

Wayne Brown
Munich, Germany

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