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POLICY REGULATING SEX WORK SHOULD BE PRAGMATIC, NOT MORALISTIC

Conversation was lead by Maxim TSOI

MT- Prostitution has always been an informal type of occupation. Do you consider it a profession? What is the legal status of the workers in the sex-industry today?
GK- This is not correct. In a number of cultures prostitution was recognized as an occupation and was respected. Japan and India are the examples of this. We cannot “consider” or “not consider” it to be a profession. A national classifier of professions, position of clerks and wage categories is officially applied in our country. This document is adopted by the Resolution N21 of the National Statistic Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, on June 12, 1998. All types of jobs included into this document are considered to be professions. Prostitution is not on the list. Hence, sex workers in our country do not have any legal status. This “legal gap” deprives women and men of their rights to social protection available to the rest of the population of our country.

MT- Who enters sex-business and what prompts people to get involved in it?
GK- We do not use the term “sex-business”. The word “business” in Russian has a negative implication, although for a westerner it does not carry any negative sub context. In the West the term “sex-business” means a type of occupation of people, who organize sex work (managers of sex work, owners of parlors, windows, etc.) and make profit on it. What you mean is agreed to term “sex work”, though we prefer the term “provision (selling) of sex services”.

There are different factors that “push” people into this occupation. In post-soviet countries this decisive factor is poverty. Poverty in its return is determined by the lack of minimal qualification necessary for employment.

MT- Do they always become sex workers voluntarily? Can they quit and find another job?
GK- In our country sex work is voluntary as a rule. This means that if a woman wants to do something else, nobody will oppose to this decision. But it is necessary to point out that besides physical coercion, there are other forms of compulsion. They turn sex work into involuntary. The most powerful is economic. Then, we have the practices by the society as a whole in terms of the attitude to semiliterate women, who don’t have property and labor skills.

Sex workers can quit their occupation if they find another source of support. Usually it is a man who supports the woman and gives her an opportunity to do something else: work as a hairdresser, sell flowers, participate in housekeeping. If such a man does not enter the picture, then usually a woman can’t find “another job” by herself. With time she can switch from one kind of activity to another, usually also associated with sex work. For example, become a sex work manager.

MT- Is it only women who are involved or there are men as well working in this sphere? What is the attitude towards them?
GK- There are males providing sex services in our country. We call them male sex workers. The attitude towards them is even worse than to women, because they are discriminated both as prostitutes and as homosexuals (in case if they provide service to other men). We have documented cases of horrible violence against male sex workers. This includes physical and moral abduction. In such cases the abductors were representatives of law-enforcement agencies.

MT- Were there cases when a sex worker turned to police for help?
GK- Yes, there were cases like this. Sex workers turn for help to police, prosecutor and even ombudsman. We have documented a number of such situations. However, we have not witnessed any of the rights of sex workers being effectively protected. Safety of the sex worker, who appealed in appropriate legal form, is not provided. At the same time, we encountered situations when the sex worker, accused of “prostitution”, was released in the court, which shows that there is still hope.

MT- What do you think of police raids?
GK- My attitude to police raids is determined by the attitude of sex workers to whom I serve. Sex workers use the term “police raids” to describe unauthorized campaign of law-enforcement officers at the places where sex workers wait for clients. During such campaigns police officers extort money from sex workers. It is called “putting a mark”. Also there are raids sanctioned by the police authorities. For example, “fighting trafficking” can be used as en excuse for such raids. I myself have seen such an order in the Police Department in Bishkek, to organize a raid with this type of reasoning.

Another excuse are citizens’ complaints, which can be fabricated and fictitious. Sex workers usually meet with their clients in places far from living areas. Sex workers tell us that such raids usually end with demand for money.

MT- Do you believe it really possible to cultivate respect to sex workers’ rights in our country, while not all the rights of other social groups are considered, of those socially approved groups like elderly or disabled people?
GK- Yes, of course it is possible to develop respect of sex workers’ rights in our country. It is possible to cultivate respect of rights of other humiliated groups of population too. The situation in Kyrgyzstan is much better than in many other countries, including our close neighbors. This brings us hope and gives confidence in our struggle. Best signs of this are: possibility to openly discuss sex workers’ rights in media and during the meetings with GO representatives, representatives of the government and, especially, the parliament. Also we often hear words of support from average people who themselves experienced hardships. Average people do not feel the urge to torture and abduct other people, who by bad luck ended up in the streets of our cities.

Another positive sign is active participation of people, who are selling sex, in promotion of their own rights. In case of positive result, the experience of such campaigns could be applied as a model to other social groups, such as disabled and senior people to protect their rights.

MT- What should be the policy in this field?
GK- We believe, it must encompass the following basic features: first, the process of its development must include people who have their own experience in provision of sex services. Second, it must be based on acceptance of the fact that people, selling sex, are a part of the society. It must not treat these people as people outside society. And third, it must be pragmatic and not moralistic.

MT- Will legalization of prostitution solve problems in this field? If yes, then how? Occupational safety, taxation, pension planning, organization of special zones, creation of labor union… how is it going to happen?
GK- Partially, some problems will be solved. To what extend? This will depend on what do we mean by the word “legalization”. All, that you have enumerated, sounds good now. What won’t be good for sure is registration of people as prostitutes and testing on diseases. We should avoid this.
European countries have a negative experience of registration and compulsory testing. We don’t need to employ negative examples.

MT- What should be done to attract attention of society to the issues of sex workers?
GK- We need attention of media. It is not very important what exactly they are going to write and broadcast. What is important is that the issues are talked about. It is important that different people could talk and convince or fail to convince each other. Perhaps, as a result everything will take its right place. Or, perhaps, this won’t happen. But nevertheless, everything will be the way the people deserve it. It is a big role and a big achievement of mass media: to make public responsibility visible. Sex workers’ problems are the problems of the whole society and of each of us. Because sex workers are not different. They are part of us. They are our sisters.

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