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Why the public supports Al-Thani

Among the many bizarre aspects to my story about the Qatari prince who is suing the Czech Republic is how Al-Thani went about getting these young girls into his bed. Here's how the scheme worked, according to local media reports. He hired two adult females to troll the streets — especially near schools — looking for attractive young girls generally aged 12 to 14. These two women (who were convicted and given suspended jail sentences, according to Czech Radio) were instructed to offer the girls 2,000 crowns (about $110) to go back to the prince's apartment and have sex with him.

An additional footnote:  Al-Thani's lawyer said her client wasn't likely to appear at the civil trial because he fears being arrested if he enters the country. Lest anyone miss the irony in this story it is this: The prince who wants to clear himself of the label child molester files a civil suit in an attempt to do just that. But fearing he could still be arrested on the criminal charges against him makes sure he won't set foot in the country for the trial.

One of the more peculiar aspects about writing a story like this from Prague is the comparatively muted sense of public outrage toward the accused. One gender equalities expert I spoke to during the reporting for this story pointed to a far bigger sex scandal. It involved a locally renowned choir master and his years-long sexual abuse of under-age girls. As a well-established local icon — long before public disclosure of his predilection for underage girls — Al-Thani engendered substantial public support when the allegations became criminal charges, and even when those charges became convictions. This gender equalities expert was at a loss to explain the public's apparent indifference.

To be sure sexual mores are more relaxed in Europe than in the United States, and here in Bohemia all the more so. But it would be a serious mistake to think Czechs are indifferent to the sexual abuse of their young girls. People can only respond to what they see and hear. In cases such as the Qatari prince or the Prague choir master what the public sees is this: a young or middle-aged man who is otherwise respected in the community; who also happens to like having sex (albeit with girls who are generally 1-3 years below the age of consent, which is 15 here. And there are no restrictions that prohibit adults from engaging in consensual sex with anyone over that age. Which, when you think about it, makes the prince's behavior all the more bizarre — because he could have avoided all of these legal hassles if he had simply pursued sex with 15-year-olds. But for reasons unknown he, apparently, deemed 15 to be too old. But I digress).

The people the public never sees, or hears from, are the victims. Obviously these are very sensitive issues. Many victims may not want to speak about it publicly, and it requires a journalist sensitive to the situation. But my 20 years of journalism experience tells me that some victims will talk. For some it may be cathartic; for others it may be revenge toward the abuser; and others may have other motivations. (And some may not want their names used; but a journalist granting anonymity in such cases is fairly pro-forma.)

But here in the Czech Republic readers almost never get to know the victims of crimes like these because the courts refuse to reveal their names or provide a journalist with a way to contact a parent or legal representative of the victim. So instead of getting a first-hand account from a girl who may be traumatized over having been abused by an adult, readers get an image of an otherwise positive male figure (the suspect) against a recitation of charges by a well-meaning, but hardly sympathetic, prosecutor.

Reforms to the legal system here ought to include an avenue for journalists to contact crime victims in order to give them an opportunity to tell their stories to the public.