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Interview with Irina Maslova about the sex workers struggle to protect their rights

Even if you break the Administrative Code, it is not the reason to allow a crime against yourself.

Irina Maslova, leader of the sex workers' and their allies' movement to protect health, dignity and human rights "Silver Rose":

"I cannot call ourselves a trade union, as we just united in the movement, knowing that behind our backs we have life, health, safety and interests of the three million people. In 2011 we gathered 13 people from different regions of Russia and from different social strata of sex work: these were both street girls who had a history of drug use, and girls who work in salons, as well as third parties, namely the organizers. There was even one customer. With these thirteen people we found something we all have in common: rights violation, criminalization of sex work and the desire of the state to interfere in people's private lives. One should not allow it to intrude into your private life, as well as thrust its nose into your bedroom.

Prior to that, for almost 8 years there had existed a very small group that provided mutual support of sex workers in Saint-Petersburg. At the time we called it "Silver Rose". This title was inherited by the movement as well.

We tried to register the organization and honestly wrote that this is an organization of sex workers and their allies that support them in health protection, dignity and human rights. One should understand what it means to our Ministry of Justice and for our state to name ourselves in such an honest and frank manner. Almost three years of our struggle for the right to unite led to the fact that the Ministry of Justice refused us, and we lost at the courts of all levels. We will take out the process to the European Court of Human Rights. If we could have registered our organization, we would have made the state recognize that the social group of sex workers that amounts to three million people exists in the Russian state. But if the state does not respect the right of the weak to protection, such a state will not protect anyone.

We advocate for decriminalization of sex work in Russia. When the administrative purview for prostitution was introduced, it allowed the police to rob, kill, rape, extort, and provide a crime-sponsored coer. This small administrative purview allowed the state to treat a large number of women, men and transgender people in quite a brutal way. Somehow, no one thought that when the state allowed itself to be violent towards the weaker, it also allowed itself to abuse anyone. In my head I have it as a very well-built puzzle: if one group of people can be treated in this way, why you, dear civil society, decided that there will be no Department of Internal Affairs “Dalniy” (the infamous office in Kazan. After a man had visited it, he died due to rupture of the rectum.

From the end of last year in St.-Petersburg the Federal Migration Service together with riot police break into saloons, brothels — howsoever you call them — almost every week. This is illegal, as anything else what police does towards to sex workers. Not so long ago we settled a case which we had been conducting for almost two and a half years: a police officer, while off duty, beat a girl to death with his legs, drove away with her body to the forest and threw it away. We proceeded to judgment: eight years of close confinement and compensation in an amount of 1 million rubles to the mother of the murdered girl, and this is a big breakthrough. I found myself the mother of the girl, and offered help. Probably the only people who believed we would succeed was me and our lawyer. All these cases last very long.

For a start, we return self-respect and respect towards human dignity to the people. Even if you break the Administrative Code, it is not the reason to allow a crime against yourself. The easiest thing we teach is: what one needs to write in the report record. You should not be afraid of them, because they commit a crime by breaking into your house and taking out from there everything: soap, bedding, all your gold, savings and a dog that you love the most. We try to explain to the people that they are still human beings and citizens, and that it is their civic responsibility to defend themselves. We are trying to make people stronger. You will still get out of this business and this profession, life will go on, and your task is to get out without losing yourself, your health and psychological comfort."

The excerpt is taken from the article "New Trade Unions. We Had It Enough: an IT-person, a Doctor, and a Sex Worker on Trade Union Creation" by Yuliana Lizer, "Gorod"

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