The problem of prostitution in the Czech Republic is a serious one, and in Monday’s Pravo, Christian Democrat MEP Jan BÅ™ezina tried to argue the absurdity of legalizing prostitution (link goes to Google’s cache of the article, or click here for the article on the KDU-ÄŒSL website), or at least efforts to move it off the streets.

Březina wrote that if the state legalizes and taxes the oldest profession, it becomes a defacto stakeholder in its continuation because of the money it would be making.

But then Březina continues. The translation is mine:

“Neighboring Germany can serve as a warning case. Their experiment in “emancipation,” putting prostitution and other erotic services on the same legal footing as other ways of earning a living has gone so far as to force unemployed women registered at the labor office to take work in the sex industry if they don’t want to lose their social benefits. According to German law, every person younger than 55 years of age that refuses legally-offered work stands to lose those benefits, regardless of whether it is work in a bordello or phone sex.”

The problem is that the situation in Germany that BÅ™ezina mentions – one that was also picked up by the British press – never existed. It struck me as odd when I read BÅ™ezina’s piece, so I checked the website Snopes.com, which is devoted to determining whether ‘urban legends’ are true or not. And Snopes has a thorough debunking of the story:

We were initially skeptical about the literal truth of the version reported in the English press, however, because the issue seemed to have received scant attention in the German press. In fact, the origin of this story was evidently a 18 December 2004 article published in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung (also known as TAZ) which did not report that women in Germany must accept employment in brothels or face cuts in their unemployment benefits. (Although it claimed there had been “isolated cases” of such, it did not provide any source or documentation to back up that statement.)

The Tageszeitung merely presented the concept of brothel employment as a technical possibility under current law; it did not provide any actual cases of women losing their benefits over this issue. The article also quoted representatives from employment agencies as saying that while it might be possible for employment agencies to offer jobs as prostitutes to “long-term unemployed” women, they (the agencies) could not require anyone to work in a brothel. (The agencies noted that brothels used “other recruitment channels” anyway.)

Snopes concludes as follows:

This was another case where, like a game of “telephone,” a story was sensationalized for political purposes and passed from one news source to the next, and somewhere in the rewriting and translating process what was originally discussed as a mere hypothetical possibility has now been reported as a factual occurrence.

In the case of MEP Březina, the urban legend is not only being reported as fact, but being used as an example by a person responsible for policy on a pan-European level.

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