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Estonia becoming a European prostitution-tourism capital

Jan 08, 2004
By Aleksei Gunter

TALLINN - Estonia needs more information campaigns and active involvement on the part of politicians to tackle the social risks caused by prostitution, sociologists from the institute of the Open Estonia Foundation said.

According to the institute's survey released in December, "Prostitution in Estonia: Social and Economic Pressure," Estonia has one of the highest numbers of prostitutes per capita in Europe with 30 per 10,000 residents, second only to Germany.
In all, there are about 4,000 prostitutes in Estonia and about 300,000 in Germany, according to the survey.
Such a vast market exists due to sex tourism, and in the Baltic country the largest group of adherents is predominantly made up of Finns, according to the institute.
Currently it is legal to provide and to buy sex services in Estonia, but the mediation of such services is banned. Police investigators often have difficulties proving that a place registered as a private residency or a bar or sauna is actually managing the sale of sex services.
In Tallinn alone there are some 50 brothels, and some of them are known to every resident of the district, though investigators have not been able to shut them all down.
In neighboring countries where for the past several decades the state has stepped in to control or eliminate prostitution the situation is different, wrote the survey. There are seven and three prostitutes per 10,000 residents in Finland and Sweden respectively.
Iris Pettai, one of the sociologists who worked on the survey, said Estonia should move toward the Swedish understanding of buying sex services, where it is considered violence against women. However, before the ban was introduced in 1999 the government in Sweden spent about 20 years conducting anti-prostitution ad campaigns.
The accuracy of the survey, however, was criticized by the police, particularly in regards to the alleged number of prostitutes in the country. Ivi Proos from the OEF Institute admitted that the numbers could be approximate, but he stressed that producing fully accurate reports on a shady and illegal business was impossible.
"In Estonia about 48 percent of men and 34 percent of women think both prostitution and brothels must be legalized," said Proos, referring to the survey. "Estonian people are not ready to consider prostitutes as victims of the sex business."
According to the survey, the average brothel client was a 36-year-old male, often with a university degree, usually married and having an above-average income. About 12 percent of Estonian men have visited a brothel at least once in their life, wrote the survey.
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