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Catherine Schauer: Foe of Sex Tourism

A social worker and nurse has exposed “Europe’s biggest open-air brothel,” a haven for pedophile sex tourists.

Since 1995, Cathrin Schauer, 40, has been the project director of the German nongovernmental organization KARO, which provides social and health services to prostitutes on the German-Czech border. During that time, she uncovered a growing child-prostitution network catering to the burgeoning Western European sex-tourism trade. She worked behind the scenes, quietly gathering evidence of 500 abused children, and frequently alerted the Czech police. But her alerts went unnoticed. Until now, that is.

On Czech Independence Day, Oct. 28, 2003, Schauer published her book, Children Walk the Streets, chronicling child prostitution along the Czech-German border. It catapulted her into the limelight and unleashed a Czech-German diplomatic row. The Czech government slammed the findings as dishonest, unethical, a sham, even a marketing ploy. The Czech Interior Ministry threatened to file suit. “Nobody approached us,” Schauer told World Press Review. “We heard about their plan only through the media.”

The German branch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which sponsored the book, and Christine Rau, the wife of the German president, both stand firmly behind the report. Czech and German commentators, however, are divided over Schauer’s revelations. “The warning from Germany should be taken seriously,” Prague’s Mlada Fronta Dnes remarked. Some commentators criticize the report—others praise Schauer for highlighting the issues and verify her accounts. Schauer’s findings are a hard pill to swallow for the Czechs, who will join the European Union in May 2004. But Germany, too, will have to own up: Ninety percent of the pedophile sex tourists are German, KARO reports.

The book’s eyewitness accounts make for painful reading. “When the Germans ask for younger children, I bring them my 6-year-old brother,” says 15-year-old “Antonin.” Parents and relatives act as pimps. Mothers offer infants as young as 3 years old, for a couple of euros, or a piece of candy for a sibling. Schauer maintains that she sought to protect the privacy of the 40 children between the ages of 6 and 17 profiled in her book by guaranteeing their anonymity. Her critics, however, maintain she withheld documentation to sensationalize her findings.

“We are devastated by the criticism against us,” Schauer told WPR. “We did not want to attack the Czech government. Only expose the perpetrators.”

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Tekla Szymanski.

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