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In Russia, the Pimps Don’t Care About the Girls

Interview with Nata from Ukraine,who is involved in Lega-life,  the Ukrainian National Network of Sex Workers about her experiences of working in Moscow, Russia as a migrant sex worker. 

SWAN News (SN): Please tell us about your experience of sex work.
I worked for two years in Moscow on the main street for the “standing” girls [street sex workers]. We were standing on the street but the job took place in hotels or apartments.

SN: Did you have any trouble with the police?
In Moscow, we had no problems with the police because the pimps were dealing with them. The problems only affect immigrants: you must always have your papers with you. We would be fined for having no ([legal immigration) documents, but owing to the pimps, we didn’t get fined for prostitution.

SN: What was the relationship between sex workers and pimps?
The pimps got a 50/50 split of the profits from our sex work in Russia. They are not boyfriends or husbands, the relationship is strictly professional.

SN: Is it possible to work without a pimp?
Yes, independent girls can work without pimps. They are all Russians, though. But that was not the case for those of us without documents, who were in Russia illegally. Most of us in that situation were Ukrainians.

SN: Why can’t migrant sex workers work independently in Moscow?
They can, but you would need a lot of money in advance to come to Moscow, to cover your costs of living and so on − quite a big amount of money upfront. On the other hand, a pimp pays for everything. Also, to work individually is dangerous because of the clients and because you don’t have anywhere to report problems to at all. The police are a major issue. If you have a pimp, he will speak to the police and arrange the deals, and cover many things for you, so you are protected. If you are independent, you are at the mercy of the police − they impose administrative fines on you or force you to have sex with them.

SN: How do sex workers end up with pimps?
Women who want to work abroad, look for a pimp in Ukraine and he arranges for them to get to Russia and work for the Russian pimps. The women know they are going to do sex work, and that they are going to work for someone but they don’t know for how much, under what conditions or in what deals with the pimps.
When you have paid off, the pimps say you can go and be independent, but every time they punish you for something and make you pay more. So it is difficult to go out and work on your own. I worked for two years in Moscow like this, and I couldn’t bring home any money at all. Every time the pimps make you pay more. They will bring small things for you and then make you pay a lot.
In Russia, the pimps don’t care about the girls at all. In the Ukraine, the pimps work professionally, they take 50-50 but they give security and as a sex worker, you feel safe.

SN: How did you leave your pimp?
A client was nice and he helped me get away. He became my boyfriend, I moved in with him and we came to Ukraine to have a child. After that, I lived in Russia for several years. I tried to live there legally but couldn’t get papers because I have a health condition. They wouldn’t let me stay in Russia or get any job so I went back to Ukraine with my child. My boyfriend still helps me by wiring money.