CZECH REPUBLIC::IN THE former Eastern bloc's largest ever sexual abuse trial, a Czech court has found the director of the internationally acclaimed children's singing ensemble Bambini di Praga guilty of molesting 40 teenage girls between 1984 and 2003.
Despite the large number of victims, former choirmaster Bohumil Kulinsky (48), now a taxi driver, on Tuesday evaded jail, however, receiving instead a suspended five-year sentence. Both sides are appealing the sentencing.
The youngest victims were 12 at the time of the abuse, including one who told the court in Hradec Kralove that Kulinsky made the singers go naked into a sauna where "he would shower our private parts with a hose".
Kulinsky had intercourse with six of the teenagers, three of whom were under 15, the Czech age of consent. He fondled, pressured and had some form of sexual contact with the other victims, all considered under age by the court as they were entrusted to his care.
Kulinsky could have received up to 12 years in jail, according to Czech law.
Judge Miloslav Jezek said his sentencing took into account Kulinsky's "successful promotion of the good name of the republic" during the choir's many foreign tours. He also said "the period between the abuse and its prosecution" was too long to merit jail time.
The light sentence has infuriated women's rights advocates in the Czech Republic, who say it recalls attitudes from the com-munist era, when the state turned a blind eye toward sexual abuse.
"I am shocked that Kulinsky got no jail time," said Vanda Thorne, a gender studies professor at New York University in Prague.
"'It only tells you how these issues are still viewed here, including domestic violence and sexual harassment."
Lenka Treglova. editor of the women's magazine Ona, or She, a supplement of Mlada Fronta Dnes newspaper, said statements made by Kulinsky's lawyer and legal experts during the trial typified the Czech view of abuse victims.
Kulinsky's lawyer, Tomas Sokol, told the court, "touching a girl's breasts on top of her T-shirt cannot be understood as sexual abuse".
A court expert, Antonin Brzek, said "Kulinsky wasn't a paedophile; he just likes very young women".
Ms Treglova also found the logic behind the judge's leniency astounding. "Would that mean that Hitler would have got off in Germany because he made the country famous?" she asked.
Bambini di Praga, once one of Europe's best classical youth groups, offered its mostly female members a rare chance for foreign travel during the communist era in Czechoslovakia.
During tours abroad, according to court papers, Kulinsky would go into some of the girls' rooms and fondle their breasts and genitals.
Kulinsky told the court that since all of the activity was consensual, he did not understand why it was wrong.
Both of his former wives were previously members of the choir under his supervision.
Karolina Chytilova, the only former victim who has come forward in the media, declined to speak about the trial result. She told the public broadcaster Czech Television: "Every time I say something it is used against me."