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MARTA Centre: sex clients sustain prostitution network in Latvia

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUProstitution in Latvia is legal. Nearly anyone can be a sexual thrill-seeker or sex client and remain unpunished. Women who were forced into the life of prostitutes, on the other hand, are the ones who pay the price.

BNN spoke with MARTA Centre’s legal expert Zane Zvirgzdiņa to learn of the tricks and schemes recruiters use to lure women to live as prostitutes and what legalization aspect means for Latvia.

Prostitution is legal in Latvia

The lawyer explains that Prostitution Restriction Regulations are in force in Latvia. Those regulations were developed by the Cabinet of Ministers. Regulations do not prohibit prostitution as a whole. Instead the document introduces certain restrictions. «With that, as far as the state is concerned – prostitution is legal. Otherwise there would be no need to introduce restrictions,» explains MARTA Centre’s lawyer.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a prostitute?

If prostitution is a legal service, one might ask ironically if prostitutes pay taxes and if they are registered as ‘self-employed’. When asked, the lawyer said no – prostitutes do not pay taxes. «The moment the state starts collecting taxes from prostitution, the state becomes a pimp, because the budget would thereby benefit from prostitution,» says lawyer Zvirgzdiņa, adding that prostitution itself is not illegal. Nevertheless, there are specific restrictions put in place by the Cabinet of Ministers.

«If we look at prostitution as a system, we have to understand that there are people involved in prostitution and sex clients. Without the latter, the system would not exist. The real situation is that as long as there is demand, there will be supply. One major problem in Latvia is that no one punishes sex clients,» says the legal expert of MARTA Centre.

The centre’s representative refrains from calling it a profession, backing her views with a rhetorical question: «Have you ever dreamed of becoming a prostitute when you were a child? Has any person ever said they would like their children to pick up this profession? Let’s not forget about the kinds of psychological and physical consequences this kind of activity can bring.»

Society’s impression of prostitutes – poor, uneducated, and have themselves to blame

There are many different articles and stories floating around in the public space. One such material was published by EDARTV three years ago. The story tells about prostitution in Rumbula. The description of the video says: «For some time now we’ve been planning on driving out for some girls. Now we’ve decided this day has come.»

Regulations established by the Cabinet of Ministers state that prostitution is allowed in an apartment owned or rented by the person. This means the video published by EDARTV in Rumbula shows illegal activities.

The lawyer says: «Commenting on the video from EDARTV, it should be mentioned – although it is important to talk about prostitution, it is far more important to do it in a proper way. I think the way the video demonstrated it all was nothing more than abuse of a single woman engaged in prostitution. On top of it all – she was visibly pregnant.»

She continues: «We can see in the video footage that the men make her strip and make fun of her, filming her striptease. This was nothing more than insulting and degrading prank.»

MARTA Centre considers this video the absurdity of life, when most women end up in prostitution because of poverty. The lawyer mentions that prostitution does not bring in a lot of money – it is a myth. Women engaged in prostitution often have no money to afford an apartment, let alone pay a fine for engaging in illegal activities.

It should be said that municipal police control compliance with regulations. Women engaged in prostitution are punished. The same cannot be said for their clients, however. The fine ranges from 350 to 700 euros, according to the Latvian Code of Administrative Violations.

«No imagine if a woman is forced to prostitute herself because of poverty. How is she supposed to afford paying a fine? Another unanswered question is how a fine supposed to help a woman escape prostitution. Sex clients, on the other hand, face no criminal liability, even though they are basically given the right to buy another human being and do with them what they please,» says Zvirgzdiņa.

The lawyer mentions that the men who filmed the video, even though it doesn’t show the act itself, can be considered sex clients in a broad sense – they purchased a sexual services. However, it is not possible to punish them because regulations do not provide any restrictions for buyers.

Even considering the fact that the video was taken and put on the internet, the ones responsible face no penalty, because the woman’s face is blurred out. «It cannot be considered pornography, because it is presented as a documentary. As I’ve already said, the idea is good, but the execution was poor,» says Zvirgzdiņa.

When your lover becomes your pimp

MARTA Centre has seen no cases when women decided to become prostitutes of their own will, although such cases may exist elsewhere in the world. «Freedom of choice exists when there are alternatives. Some women who come to MARTA Centre say they had been forced into prostitution at an early age,» says the lawyer.

When asked how those women ended up as prostitutes, the lawyer mentioned that there is always someone with an offer. Human trafficking is caused by the following factors – unemployment, weak social and economic structure, lack of education opportunities, cultural aspects, desire to have a better life abroad, violence against women and children, as well as armed conflicts.

One of the most popular ‘recruitment mechanisms’ is the so-called Lover boy or Boyfriend story. «This means women are lured into a life of prostitution by their life partners.»

Zvirgzdiņa continues: «A man takes care of a woman, provides her financially and at some point announces that money is needed, pushing the woman towards the idea of becoming a prostitute, saying that it can help improve their financial state. It is a very manipulative approach.» She calls this approach manipulative because women who did not have enough attention provided to them during their childhood often think ‘he takes care of me, he wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to me’. In the end, however, an absurd excuse is used – «she was the one who decided…»

MARTA Centre has had a case when police performed control measures by calling a phone number from an advertisement. A woman answered the phone, and police officers got the impression that nothing is wrong – it is normal, her choice. But the lawyer had a question to ask to police officers: «If a woman can be forced to engage in prostitution, is it not possible for a woman to be forced under threats to answer calls and say everything is fine?»

Specialists of the centre also mention cases when so-called ‘friends’ forced their girlfriends to engage in prostitution, and later making them involve other girls, saying that it’s the only way to break free.

Why won’t Latvia prohibit prostitution entirely?

Information posted on MARTA Centre’s website details that on 28 July 2016 the Cabinet of Ministers ordered Interior Affairs Ministry, along with Justice Ministry, Healthcare Ministry, Welfare Ministry, Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry, Ombudsman’s Bureau and NGOs, among which was MARTA Centre, to develop a legislative draft for restriction of prostitution. The finished document – Prostitution Restriction Law – is set to come into force 1 January 2019.

It is important to emphasize the lawyers words that the existing regulations regarding restriction of prostitution do not comply with the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, because instead of cabinet requirements there has to be a law. It is a legal nuance all involved experts had agreed upon and had formed a group for the development of a legislative draft. However, regulations were never lifted because the work group decided that prohibition of prostitution in Latvia is an unsupportable measure, says the lawyer.

In addition, Zvirgzdiņa says MARTA Centre cannot turn to the Constitutional Court without a client. However, «women are understandably afraid of publicly disclosing their names».

She emphasizes that there are too many myths about supposed obstacles for the fight against human exploitation. «Police are afraid of prostitution becoming latent once responsibility is lifted from victims and punishments are applied to buyers. They are afraid of a situation akin to Sweden, Canada and other countries – when it is impossible to find a single victim. Moreover – prostitution cannot possibly become latent if there are sex clients. If they can find prostitution, police can use the same methods to identify victims and their abusers.»

MARTA Centre does not consider cooperation with police authorities to be particularly well-developed and organized. It is more the opposite – municipal police are the ones who put up the fines, and MARTA does not support this kind of practice.

At the end of the conversation, MARTA Centre’s representative mentioned that it is possible to tell if a woman has suffered violence from her partner based on visible injuries, poor health, and whether or not the woman depends on her partner financially. MARTA Centre urges women to seek help and to not remain silent.

MARTA Centre offers social worker, psychologist, psychotherapist, lawyer and other specialists’ consultations for people in difficult life situations. Anyone can apply by dialling 67378539 or writing to centrs@marta.lv.


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