FEMFACTS
13 Feb 2019

Heroes for declining sex on duty

Policemen who arrest sex workers without sexually exploiting them are nothing short of heroes, according to one Croatian journalist.

Guest Mavens
Nataša Vajagić NewsMavens, Europe
Heroes for declining sex on duty - NewsMavens
Croatian police, Wikimedia Commons

'We’ve showered and we're ready': The troubles that policemen from Split face in their fight against the world's oldest profession.” This is the headline of an article published in the Croatian news portal Slobodna Dalmacija. The material for the article were court verdicts against two female sex workers in the city of Split, a town on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast.  

WHAT’S THE CLAIM?

The author begins the article by expressing his surprise at the fact that police officers are able to do their job without committing the same misdemeanor they are tasked with policing:

“Imagine being a man and doing a job where almost every day you meet hot girls, waiting for you naked or in lingerie or underwear and ready for sex.

Few would, we believe, resist the temptation, but not the selfless police officers of the Split Police Crime Unit, who encounter such scenes almost daily while breaking up prostitution rings and, without succumbing to their basic instincts, are mercilessly arresting and reporting prostitutes.

The author then describes the arrests, quoting the policemen’s testimonies from court documents, where they reported how they call the numbers of sex workers, make an appointment, go to the women’s apartments and then arrest them: "I was greeted by two unknown women, about thirty years old, wearing underwear, and they both said ‘we showered and we’re ready’”, one policeman wrote. Or, as the journalist elaborates:

But in spite of the lascivious invitation of the girls, he invited his female colleague in, took the women’s IDs and arrested them for prostitution.

The article ends with yet further praise for policemen who somehow manage to arrest these women instead of having sex with them:

You can see yourselves, dear readers, that the job of a Police Officer for Organized Crime is not easy at all and how much effort has to be put in "breaking up" organized prostitution rings.

Screenshot of the article labeled “sexism” on the Facebook page “Seksizam naš svagdašnji” (Our Daily Sexism).

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

The court materials used for the articles came from the arrests and prosecution of two women: K.B. (32) who stated during her trial that she couldn’t find a job, so she decided to become a prostitute; and I.Š (38), a single mother of two, who also defended herself by saying that she couldn’t find any other job to provide for herself and her children.

One would expect that an article with such testimonies would touch upon the country's high unemployment level that forces women to sell their bodies for a living, which is illegal in Croatia. The journalist, however, went in a completely different direction, using court cases not to report on prostitution, but to express his fascination with how police officers refuse sex (and to also casually mention how much each of the “resisted” services would cost).

This kind of reporting is denigrating to both men and women. Men are portrayed as undisciplined creatures whose ability to think rationally is threatened by women in “lace lingerie”. The policemen who didn’t have sex with prostitutes are therefore applauded for “controlling themselves”. Even more troublesome is the implied notion that using sexual services of a woman you’re about to arrest is the norm and “rising above the occasion” is a special show of strength of character.

While sex work is illegal in Croatia, so is coercion into sexual intercourse -- and this is exactly what occurs when policemen “give into temptation”, as this journalist has put it. For example, this is how one Croatian sex worker, who told her story to a local TV show, answered the question about legalization in her interview:

“If it was legal, I wouldn’t have to worry if a policeman would come and blackmail me, asking for a free service in exchange for protection, which I have experienced.

This kind of sexual violence has been documented multiple times, including the case of two policemen who repeatedly raped sex workers in a park in Split, presumably under the threat of arrest. This case eventually ended up in court and both men were suspended from duty, but it seldom happens that the rapes of sex workers are duly prosecuted.

Moreover, research conducted in 2018 as part of a joint project of Croatian and Slovenian scholars, gives this overview of sex workers’ experiences with police in Croatia:

They note that during arrests and interrogations they are frequently subjected to insults and intimidation. The police usually don’t inform them of their rights, or allow them their phone calls or to ask for legal aid. If forced prostitution is suspected, the police don’t always adequately help the arrested persons. The research participants also talked about the ties of certain police employees with pimps, especially those in elite prostitution, and about requests for sexual favors without payment, or requests for a bribe if they don’t want to be arrested.

All this information was made available to the public months before this article was published and some news sources actually used it. Here is an example of how the topic of prostitution can be treated in the media, based on facts and without malice. The author from Slobodna Dalmacija, however, prefered to focus on the type of lingerie and the “bravery” of resisting something that would be illegal anyway.

CONCLUSION

We rate this article as sexual objectification of women, for its overall tone, particularly the detailed description (supported by illustrations) of the arrested women’s physical appearance. It also  trivializes, or even instigates, violence against women who do sex work, which often comes not just from their clients and pimps, but from the policemen themselves.  

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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