Hana Malinová is combating the spread of HIV and other STDs among prostitutes in the Czech Republic. She has opened a counseling center that provides a wide range of services for these women and men, and is working to reintegrate them into mainstream society through the creative use of community theater.
The New Idea
Hana Malinová has opened a center in Prague for male and female prostitutes, where she provides counseling and health services, with particular attention to drug use and HIV/AIDS prevention. Her program has a distinctive approach to health care among the socially despised and isolated prostitutes; she perceives their self-image and their choice of livelihood as part of their overall health and has devised an unusual technique to strengthen a capacity for increased well-being among them. The most striking aspect of Hana's center is that it is also a community theater, where the prostitutes help to create plays and then take the stage as actors before an audience of their peers. Hana also offers job counseling and placement services. Her center is a space of camaraderie and support where the severely stigmatized prostitutes can gather courage to address the barriers they must overcome to reintegrate themselves into Czech society.
Since the political and economic changes in 1989, young women and men, particularly Roma (Gypsy) women, have found it increasingly difficult to find gainful employment. The opportunity to earn money quickly has drawn many of them into prostitution, and there has been a dramatic growth in the sex trade industry throughout Central Europe. Once in the industry, they are often victimized by their pimps, clients, the mafia-and other prostitutes. Moreover, the social stigma associated with prostitution causes many of them to form isolated subcultures and become marginalized. Sadly, this has wide repercussions for Czech society, including the spread of HIV, violent exploitation of women and an increase in drug addiction. During 1996 the incidence of drug use among prostitutes increased markedly.
Since mainstream society in the region still considers an open discussion of prostitution to be taboo, the public is unprepared to deal with the issue and its associated problems.
In her work with prostitutes, Hana's strategy uses support services and community theater experience toward the goal of transforming their estimates of themselves and the choices open to them. She has opened a center that provides counseling on a wide variety of issues, including self defense and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STDs. One of the tools she provides is a straightforward book on AIDS information that includes illustrated instructions in condom use. Her center also provides free HIV testing and contraception. More important, she has created an atmosphere where the women and men feel comfortable and safe. They can chat with one another, exchange information and receive advice.
Hana recognizes that improving the prostitutes' attitudes about themselves is a critical component of reintegrating them into mainstream society. She provides job counseling and placement along with an unusual opportunity to participate in community theater, which gives her clients the experience of success before an audience and also the chance to assume alternative and empowering identities. Hana believes that her strategic mixwill allow prostitutes to select safer and more traditional forms of employment and to reintegrate themselves into Czech society. One of her actors, who is now cured of her drug addiction, has become a nurse's aide. Two others are still in drug-rehabilitation and anticipating similar changes for themselves. Another long-term client now works as a paid consultant for Hana's center.
The work of the center spreads in part because of its usefulness and attractiveness to prostitutes. The practical aspects of the program, such as health and psychological services, together with the pleasure felt in the companionship there, attract a steady stream of clients by word of mouth. Hana also plans to expand her work to other major Czech cities in the near future. She believes that her work in reintegrating marginalized people into society can be further applied to other groups, such as the disabled andethnic minorities. She hopes to build bridges between her organization and other similar groups throughout the Czech Republic and the region.
Hana has an imaginative, energetic, playful personality that allows her to wear many hats. She holds a doctorate in sociology; her doctoral dissertation, which she wrote on alcoholism and criminality, is widely respected as a significant work. She has directed a number of studies and programs on social pathology at the Prognostic Institute at the Czech Academy of Sciences.
In addition to her work at her center for prostitutes, she is also a university lecturer, focusing on bridging social theory and practical experience. She is particularly interested in fostering contacts between "high risk," marginalized groups and the public through the use of the media-including theater.