Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Czech Rep: Financial Crisis Tames Demand for Prostitution

A prostitute in Dubi, the Czech Republic, waited for clients. The town’s conservative mayor thanked the downturn for “helping to keep sex tourists away.”

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - On a recent night at Big Sister, which calls itself the world’s biggest Internet brothel, a middle-aged man selected a prostitute by pressing an electronic menu on a flat-screen TV to review the age, hair color, weight and languages spoken by the women on offer.

Once he had chosen an 18-year-old brunette, he put on a mandatory terry-cloth robe and proceeded to one of the brothel’s luridly lighted theme rooms: an Alpine suite decorated with foam rubber mountains covered with fake snow.

Nearby, in the brothel’s cramped control room, two young technicians worked dozens of hidden cameras that would film the man’s performance and stream it, live, onto Big Sister’s Web site.

Customers can have sex free of charge at Big Sister, in return for signing a release form allowing the brothel to film their sexual exploits.

But even with this financial incentive, Carl Borowitz, 26, Big Sister’s marketing manager, a Moravian computer engineer, lamented that the global financial crisis had diminished the number of sex tourists coming to Prague.

“Sex is a steady demand, because everyone needs it, and it used to be taboo, which made a service like ours all the more attractive,” said Mr. Borowitz, who looks more like Harry Potter than Larry Flynt. “But the problem today is that there is too much competition and our clients don’t have as much disposable income as before.”

In the Czech Republic, where prostitution operates in a legal gray zone, the sex industry is big business, generating more than $500 million in annual revenues, 60 percent of which is derived from foreign visitors, according to Mag Consulting, a Prague-based research firm that studies the industry.

Big Sister is not the only brothel suffering the effects of a battered global economy. While the world’s oldest profession may also be one of its most recession-proof businesses, brothel owners in Europe and the United States say the global financial crisis is hurting a once lucrative industry...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT NYTimes.com

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