International Sex Workers’ Day

2 of June is International Sex Workers’ Day.
Sex workers around the world continue to face a wide range of barriers to accessing justice and health services. Since sex work is widely criminalised, most sex workers are denied access to the benefits and rights afforded to other workers under labour laws and face the risk of criminalisation, detention, deportation and legal sanction.

Sex-workers are one of the groups that are vulnerable to HIV. They have limited access to medical, legal and social services, information and prevention means. Also they face violence from partners, clients, administrators, and police officers. Nowadays at Corona time a lot of Sex Workers don’t have an access to ARV Therapy.

AFEW International works for key populations affected by HIV for almost 2 decades. With a focus on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we promote health and increase access to prevention, treatment and care for major public health concerns such as HIV, TB, viral hepatitis, and sexual and reproductive health. We strive for all people, all key populations in EECA, including Sex Workers, participate fully and confidently concerning their health and rights, in an inclusive and just society.

Partnering with the NGOs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we ensure that sex workers have access to good medical care and have great possibilities for a healthy future.

We believe that Sex workers are a real power in curbing the HIV epidemic.

Safety measures for sex workers

Enji Shagieva, Secretary of the Russian Sex Workers’ Forum, about the Forum’s activities at COVID-19 time. 

For reference:

The Russian Sex Workers’ Forum (SW Forum) is an association which includes people with experience of sex work, active sex workers, their partners, assistants and allies. The SW Forum is a platform for constructive communication between sex workers to discuss and develop common strategies to protect health and well-being of sex workers; to provide access to evidence-based HIV/STI prevention programs; to combat violence against sex workers by clients, police and third parties; to change public opinion about sex workers and sex work for the better by the state and society (destigmatization); to waive fines for sex work; to ensure sex workers’ full access to justice; and to strengthen and develop the sex worker community and mobilize sex workers and their supporters to join forces in the above directions.

Difficulties caused by the virus

Russia has always been a difficult country for SWs, transpeople and migrants, and due to the consequences of COVID-19 the situation got even worst.

As demand for sex services has fallen sharply and the risks of COVID-19 infection have increased, some sex workers have stopped working. It is no longer easy to reach this key group since sex workers are less likely to work on the street and more likely to stay in rooms that are not accessible. Many sex workers are losing contact. Some sex workers continue to provide sex services and put themselves at risk of infection. In addition, they are at increased risk of becoming victims of crime or falling prey to police raids, and thus falling prey to police brutality. Due to the epidemic, crimes against sex workers – robbery, theft, beating, fraud, threats, blackmail, extortion – have multiplied.

Due to the quarantine, some sex workers cannot return to their homes and some are left without means of subsistence and housing. It is especially difficult for migrants to return to their homes. They have to live in one small apartment for several people, which multiplies the risk of infection with coronavirus.

Organizations working with SWs have cancelled outreach visits to places where SWs still continue their activities, at their own risk. HIV testing and the distribution of condoms have been stopped. Sex workers still need condoms, as well as protective masks, antiseptics and wet wipes, and some need food and financial means.

There are also certain problems that sex workers’ clients may also be carriers of coronavirus and break quarantine, putting sex workers at risk of infection.

Due to quarantine, HIV positive sex workers have no access to ARV therapy. Due to lack of money, inability to pay rent, hormone treatment, condoms and lubricants, someone went to work online, on webcams. But it is also difficult there, because high income requires a large number of online customers. Beginners don’t have them. And because of the influx of new people, those who have long been earning on the webcam, began to earn less.

Innovations

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increased emphasis in the community on prevention education and protection against coronavirus. Through social networks, special groups, personal profiles, chat rooms and groups of various messengers, the forum informs SWs about what measures to take to minimize the risks of infection, both during everydayl life and during the provision of sex services. We have sent out several special documents with visual content to prevent coronavirus infection. In addition, volunteers and employees of some projects cooperating with the SW Forum purchased personal protective equipment (masks and antiseptics) and distributed it to sex workers using their own funds. Information was also distributed among sex workers on how to quickly make their own protective masks and antiseptics.

We are constantly working with the media, organising interviews with sex workers about the problems associated with the pandemic, how they comply with safety measures and what safety measures clients require.

A lawyer of the SW Forum has developed a memo on receiving social benefits from the government for families with children and the unemployed. Sex workers are encouraged to apply for social benefits if they fall into the privileged category of citizens.

We keep SWs informed about the pandemic news, new risks, prevention measures and risks of administrative penalties. At the request of one SW from St. Petersburg, the info manager of the SW Forum informed the special services that a citizen who violated the quarantine applied for services. Thus, the SW Forum helps sex workers to demonstrate their active position and combat the spread of coronavirus.

Today, the SW Forum is attempting to obtain operational funding to provide financial assistance to those SW who are particularly affected by the Coronavirus, as well as food packages or temporary accommodation.

 

 

 

Research: ‘Virus Carriers’ and HIV Testing: Navigating Ukraine’s HIV Policies and Programming for Female Sex Workers

Background

There are an estimated 80,100 female sex workers (FSWs) in Ukraine, of whom 7% are living with HIV. Early HIV diagnosis continues to be a public health priority in Ukraine as only approximately 54% of people living with HIV are diagnosed nationwide. This study aims to analyse the content, context and discourse of HIV testing policies among female sex workers in Ukraine and how these policies are understood and implemented in practice.

Methods

To analyse past and current national policies, we searched the database of the Ukrainian Parliament and the Ministry of Health for relevant policy documents (e.g. legislation and orders). To analyse the day-to-day practice of those involved in the implementation of these HIV programmes, we conducted face-to-face semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders. All data were coded using deductive thematic analysis initially guided by the Policy Triangle, a framework which addresses policy content, the process of policy-making, the health policy context, actors involved in policy formulation and implementation.

Results

HIV testing policies are formed and implemented in the post-Soviet context through a vertical system of AIDS clinics, resulting in the separation of key affected populations from the rest of the health system. Successive testing policies have been strongly influenced by international donors and non-governmental organisations. Furthermore, a lack of government funding for HIV prevention created a gap that international donors and local non-governmental organisations covered to ensure the implementation of testing policies. Their role, however, had limited influence on the Ukrainian government to increase funding for prevention, including testing of FSWs. Since the early 1990s, when stigmatising and discriminatory forced/mandatory HIV testing was applied, these approaches were slowly replaced with voluntary testing, self-testing and assisted HIV testing, yet stigma was found to be a barrier among FSWs to access testing.

Conclusion

Poor governance and the fragmentation of the health system, ongoing health sector reforms, shrinking international funding, and persisting stigma towards people living with HIV and sex workers might impede the continuity and sustainability of HIV testing programmes. Local civil society may now have the opportunity to contribute to the development and further implementation of HIV testing policies in Ukraine.

Read the full version of the research here.

 

Persecution and Activism of Sex Workers in Kyrgyzstan

Author: Olga Ochneva, Kyrgyzstan

For almost a year and a half, law enforcement agencies have been persecuting sex workers in Kyrgyzstan. During this period, the number of sex workers receiving HIV prevention services in some regions of the country reduced twice. Civil society organisations registered more than 450 cases of sex workers’ rights violations by the police every year.

Extortion, detentions, and threats

In 2017, 81% of all reports of abuse and human rights violations submitted to the Shah-Aiym Sex Workers Network were complaints against police officers on extortion. Shah-Aiym documents such cases with the support of Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and street lawyers of public associations all over Kyrgyzstan within the framework of the Global Fund via Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. Both sources recorded 475 cases of sex workers’ rights violations by law enforcement agencies in 2016 and 459 cases in 2017. Most often, those are cases of extortion, arbitrary detention, threats, blackmailing, pressure and degrading treatment.

“The wave of mass raids started in mid-2016 when City Directorate of Internal Affairs in Bishkek announced that it was going to “clean the city by getting rid of prostitution.” They even asked local people to conduct night raids, make photos of sex workers and pass such photos on to the policemen,” tells Shahnas Islamova, head of NGO Tais Plus. “At first, press service of the Chief Directorate of Internal Affairs was reporting detentions, not even hesitating or not understanding that they were, in fact, announcing unlawful acts of the law enforcement agencies.”

In Kyrgyzstan, sex work is decriminalized, which means that it is neither an administrative nor a criminal offense. To punish sex workers, law enforcers use other provisions of the Administrative Offences Code. Most often, sex workers are detained for alleged disorderly conduct or petty crimes.

“Sex workers try to avoid court proceedings: they buy off. There are some cases when law enforcers know what a girl does to earn her living and start blackmailing her. They threaten to take photos of the girls, tell their relatives about their occupation or take them to a police station, so the girls agree to pay: the standard charge is up to 1,000 soms ($15),” tells Alina (the name is changed), a street lawyer of a civil society organization. “If girls try to defend their rights, law enforcers find other ways to detain them: they draft reports of disorderly conduct or failure to obtain registration. Those who have bad luck or are not able to buy off may be arrested for three to five days.”

According to Alina, many sex workers have gone underground: they often change their rented apartments and phone numbers. Such situation in some regions of the country hinders the access of NGOs to sex workers to conduct HIV prevention interventions: distribute condoms, offer testing, conduct awareness-raising activities, and consultations.

“Since the start of the “purge”, our organization has been monitoring the dynamics in the coverage of sex workers with prevention programmes in Bishkek,” says the head of Tais Plus NGO. “In a year and a half, the coverage has reduced twice, and in the second quarter of 2017 the actual indicator went down to 39% of the planned coverage.”

Activism in the challenging environment

Mass raids of 2016-2017 echoed almost in every region of the country. Groups of people who explained their actions with the “religious motives and interests of the society” helped law enforcers in their “fight” against sex workers. As the end of 2017 approached, things calmed down: sex workers got used to the new conditions, while the pressure from the side of police weakened a bit and the mass raids ended. However, “police marks” stipulating sex workers paying money to the law enforcers for the so-called “protection” and “permit to work” are still there.

“Currently, in most cases pimps are the ones to keep contact with police, while there are almost no girls who work on their own,” says Nadezhda Sharonova, director of the Podruga Charitable Foundation about the situation in Osh. “Recently, our street lawyer has been more and more often reporting complaints of sex workers against their pimps who beat and blackmail the girls.”

Despite the fact that civil society organizations in Kyrgyzstan offer legal support, sex workers rarely report their offenders. Representative of the Tais Plus NGO thinks that this fact is easy to explain: to go through all the legal prosecution process, one needs boldness and strength as well as certain savings – not to cover the legal expenses, but to be able not to work for a while and keep out of the law enforcers’ sight.

At the same time, the sex workers movement is growing and becoming stronger. The Shah-Aiym Network unites sex workers in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia. The network documents human rights violations and provides support to the victims of human rights violations, actively protects the interests of sex workers’ community and publicly campaigns against violence towards sex workers. The network ensures conditions for strengthening activists’ capacity to claim and defend their rights.

“We have seen cases when sex workers defend themselves,” says Shahnas Islamova. “For instance, at the court hearings on administrative offenses some sex workers now openly say that they are engaged into sex work and do not violate any laws, while the police has violated the law when detaining them. As a result, such sex workers have left the courtroom free from any accusations.”

Compass Centre in Kharkiv, Ukraine: when Policeman Becomes an Uncle

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Authors: Janine Wildschut, Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

“I come here often,” Senior Inspector of the Juvenile Prevention Department of National Police of Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Andrii Stadnik is sitting by the table in the centre Compass of Kharkiv City Charitable Foundation Blago. He is smiling and pointing at the table. “Look, here I even have my own cup to drink from…”

Andrii Stadnik started to work in police in 1998. He says he is very happy with his job now. In Compass he meets many children who are grateful for not being send to prison, and he likes to be able to help them. The regulars of the centre even call him uncle Andrii, and this shows very good relations between people in the Ukrainian culture.

18 years old Oleksandr (Sasha) is sitting in front of Andrii, at the same table. Sasha is one of the main characters in the film that was made about the centre Compass a few years ago. Once he was detained by Andrii Stadnik and stayed under police control for some time. Now, after the client management program at Compass, Olexandr is doing much better. He even found a job as a security guard. “Now I somehow feel as Andrii’s colleague,” Sasha smiles.

“The criminal juvenile cases decreased tremendously last years, due to the approach when juvenile police is collaborating with a youth centre that offers client management. These alternative supporting ways are more constructive and more effective,” Senior Inspector of the Juvenile Prevention Department is telling us. “Previously there were 2000 cases per year, and now it is 362. The formulas of substances that circulate on the streets change so fast that young people can often not be prosecuted, but by giving youth an option and an alternative for other options, young people have less problems and also cause less problems for the society they live in.”

img_0036There are 492.000 children in the region in total. 897 families are under juvenile department control in Kharkiv region in Ukraine. The Juvenile Police checks these families, sees how they are doing, and if there are cases of child abuse, financial problems, and so on. Kharkiv Juvenile police is also inviting colleagues from other smaller cities or villages, and teaches them how to work with the Centre Compass. Through this cooperation they found out that young people from the region have difficulties with coming to the Centre since Kharkiv is too far for them. That is why now once a week a social worker of the Centre travels to the villages to counsel young people in need there.

Kharkiv City Charitable Foundation Blago has a long history of working with key populations, including people who use drugs, sex workers, men having sex with men and street children. The organisation started to work with adolescents using drugs since 2012 within the framework of “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights of Key Populations” project, through ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine.) Bridging the Gaps project supported the opening of the centre Compass that specifically serves vulnerable adolescents and young people, focusing on youth using drugs. The centre offers psychological counseling services, medical help, testing for HIV, hepatitis B and C. It is a daycare facility with social workers, psychologists and medical workers. The centre is providing case management services to youth using drugs, and also works with youth in prisons, and vocational schools.

2016 International Consultation: Policing, Public Health and Vulnerable Populations is Announced

LEPH2016-DL-FlyerThe 2016 International Consultation: Policing, Public Health and Vulnerable Populations will take place on 1 October 2016 in Amsterdam. It will focus on police work with sex workers, injecting drug users, homeless people, sexual minorities, and trafficked persons. The registration for the event will be opened in August.

The Consultation will be held prior to the 3rd International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health 2-5 October, Amsterdam. Participants of the event will consider and endorse principles to guide the greater participation of vulnerable populations in building safe, secure and healthy communities in partnerships with police.

The purpose of the Consultation is to promote best practices in policing and inter-sectoral partnerships to ensure healthy lives and wellbeing of vulnerable and marginalized populations (SDG3), and promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG16). Police and other law enforcement agencies, community organizations and representatives of vulnerable populations, government agencies, United Nations agencies and other international development organizations are expected to participate in the event.

The 2016 Consultation follows consultations on police and HIV held at the LEPH2012 and LEPH2014 Conferences. There is an increasing need to integrate HIV prevention programs with programs addressing other harms with the same populations. Further, HIV vulnerability is often secondary to other harms – such as gender-based violence, inequalities in wealth distribution, social exclusion, lack of job opportunities and education access, or being an undocumented migrant. A key principle of this integration is the involvement of vulnerable communities in the design and implementation of these programs.

Participation in the Consultation is open to registered participants at the 3rd International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH2016). Places are limited. Registrations will open around August through the Conference website: www.leph2016.com. For further information about the Consultation, write to leahn@leahn.org

Click to read the full details of the event