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The police is protecting us: an article about the violence against sex workers in Ukraine

All-Ukrainian League "LEGALIFE" activist Irina on the problem of violence against sex workers by the police.

Recently, the life in Ukraine has become harder due to economic and political situation. Increase in unemployment, unstable economy and low living wage are observed in our country.

Most women who lost their jobs have small children. Although they have husbands, the latter are unable to financially support the family because they are either unemployed, or they have only a temporary income. In this regard, the women need to think how to make money and feed their families. There are only limite possibilities to earn living. Being in such a difficult situation, some of them decide to take a desperate step - to make money by engaging in sex work, that is better known in the society as prostitution.

Prostitution in Ukraine is illegal, and therefore this activity is an administrative offense. Moreover, it is also condemned by the society. Nevertheless, women still offend against the law and commit a sin against morals trying to provide for their families. Due to the poor working conditions of sex work, these women put themselves at risk of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases due to periodic rape by police and clients, disclosure of personal information, humiliation, and all kinds of violence, as well as societal stigma. Even though the women are forced to earn their living in such a way, they are still human beings who have rights and deserve respect for their human dignity. Still, sex workers are subjected to violence from the police in majority of cases. This happens mainly due to the abuse of power by the policemen.

The police pulls rank and often extorts money from sex-workers for so-called work permit or gasoline. Some of the police officers commit sexual and physical violence against sex workers, whom they do not even consider as human beings and whom they often treat as social misfits. Many people believe all sex workers are HIV-positive, spread the STIs and are drug dependent. If sex workers want to complain about the illegal actions of the police, their complaints and appeals are ignored by the Ministry of Interior, offenders are not punished. This situation is a fertile ground for the continuation and growth of violence, it is also the tool for extorting bribes from sex workers by the police. As a result, sex workers are afraid to go to law enforcement agencies when their constitutional and human rights are violated .

Nowadays, Ukraine has started a number of reforms in various areas, including the reform of the police. At this point we do not know what effect the reform of the police will have on sex work. Police brutality and corruption stay unpunished. In order to solve this problem, one has to introduce a transparent approach to staff appointments at all levels, as well as increase wage of the police. It is also important to involve public representatives in addressing complaints on the rights and freedoms violations by the police officers. The complex approach to the problem would allow to eliminate violence and extortion targeted at sex workers.

Let's hope that the corruption among the police will disappear, or at least decrease significantly. We also believe that the rights of no citizen shall be violated, irrelevant of her/his occupation. People that are abandoned by the state to the mercy of fate should not be treated as criminals. The government, the politicians and decision-makers betray their citizens three times: firstly, when they rob the population of Ukraine with the help of corrupt schemes, secondly, when they criminalize the attempt of the same people to improve their living conditions, and thirdly, when the state representatives, the police, doctors, governmental officials at various levels commit illegal acts of violence against people living in Ukraine. We urge the international community to closely monitor the violations of human rights of sex workers in Ukraine.

The author of this article is the activist of "LEGALIFE" Irina

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