Response stories

Violence against a sex worker in Armenia and her legal support

Lusine (name changed), 32 years old, faced severe violence from a client she encountered in the course of her professional activities in N city. Lusine moved to this city from a war zone, where she worked as a waitress and occasionally engaged in sex work. In her new residence, she faced more difficult conditions, which forced her to delve into sex work to provide for her basic needs, such as paying rent.

One day, after vaginal sex, a client insisted on oral sex, offering an additional fee. Lusine refused, leading to a conflict that later escalated into physical violence. The client beat the girl, and at the end inserted a used condom into her mouth before leaving the apartment.

Although Lusine is embarrassed to seek help, she has told close friends about the incident and is determined to seek support and justice. In her quest for legal protection, she has turned to the New Generation organization, where lawyers are working hard to provide her with the help and support she needs.

A New Generation lawyer is actively working on this case, trying to help the girl file a police report anonymously, given her desire for confidentiality.

Also read:

Progress in Addressing Discrimination and Promoting HIV Awareness in North Macedonia

Criminal proceedings of the case on trans* person’s beating continue in Armenia

Response stories

Breaking down walls of silence: the struggle for sex workers’ rights in Azerbaijan

For the past five years, women facing HIV, sex workers, and those who use drugs in Azerbaijan have been marginalized in the process of preparing and submitting shadow reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In the concluding observations on Azerbaijan’s sixth periodic report (2022), CEDAW expressed concern, pointing out that the state relies on non-governmental organizations to provide shelter. The Committee recommended the abolition of penalties against women for prostitution, criminalization of sexual exploitation, and the provision of support programs for those who wish to leave sex work.

Zeinab’s (name changed) story is just one of many such cases. Married at seventeen, she faced difficulties when her husband left for Russia, leaving her alone with a child and no means of livelihood. Attempts to get support from her parents proved futile, and Zeinab was forced to turn to sex work. When her landlord found out about her activities, he demanded that she move out.

It was at this point that REActors intervened after hearing about the situation from other sex workers. Working with the NGO Clean World, they organized a shelter for Zeinab and her child, providing not only shelter and food but also free services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. A lawyer was engaged to resolve the eviction issue. Despite the lack of a lease, sanctions against the landlord were not possible.

Zeinab also began vocational training aimed at her eventual reintegration into society. The shelter provided her with the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to live independently. Despite her difficulties, she remains hopeful for a brighter future.

The challenges facing women in Azerbaijan are often related to early marriage, limited access to education, and high unemployment. Involvement in sex work becomes a frequent response to these factors. It is therefore important to continue to fight for women’s rights and provide support and alternatives for those who want to change their lives. The intervention of NGOs and REActors undoubtedly plays a key role in this process.

Also read:

Protecting the rights of transgender women in Tajikistan

Incident in Moldova with disclosure of medical information

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Response stories

A REActor in Tajikistan spoke out against violence and lynching

During an evening walk in the city of N, by a river, a crowd of four young men who were trying to drag a young girl into the water attracted attention. She cried out desperately for help but was powerless against their violence. Witnessing this offense was a REActor who could not remain indifferent to what was happening and decided to intervene to protect the girl.

He approached the boys and asked what was going on. They stated that they were trying to “punish” the girl for her previous behavior. The paralegal was threatened and warned that he too would be in trouble if he continued to intervene. However, the paralegal could not get past what was happening and decided to call the police, and specified that without immediate intervention of law enforcement, the consequences could be fatal. After that, he again actively confronted the guys, trying to explain to them that it is unacceptable to judge and punish anyone outside the law and that any conflict can be resolved peacefully.

But the offenders continued to insist that the girl was “disgracing” the neighborhood with her behavior. Finally, police officers arrived on the scene. The guys tried to escape punishment by throwing themselves into the river and swimming downstream. The REActor pulled the girl out of the water and the police officers began chasing the fugitives along the shore. While authorities were busy apprehending the boys, REActor talked to the girl to find out what had happened. She said that one of the attackers was her ex-boyfriend, who found out that she had provided services to a client for a fee and decided to retaliate out of jealousy.

The REActor and the girl filed a police report against her ex-boyfriend and all those involved in the attack. The detained young man pleaded guilty and revealed the names of the other participants. After that, a manhunt for them began.

This story was an example of a successful response to violence and vigilante justice in the neighborhood. The REActor’s decisive actions saved the girl and brought her justice. It became a symbol of intolerance to violence and showed that one person can change the course of events and protect those in need of help. This case also reaffirmed the importance of cooperating with the police and using legal means to bring offenders to justice.

Also read:

Armenia: a criminal case was initiated at the Shengavit branch of Yerevan city department of police

Criminal proceedings of the case on trans* person’s beating continue in Armenia


Respect our choice! The world celebrates International Sex Worker Rights Day

March 3rd is International Sex Worker Rights Day. Its history began in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered for a festival in India. The event was hosted by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group, representing the interests of more than 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Since that time, March 3 is celebrated all over the world.

But even though the global society is developing as quickly as possible, in many countries sex workers are seen as criminals and “fallen” people, causing “undermining of traditional values”. Alas, the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia is no exception. Justifying themselves in this way, governments in some countries support the criminalization of sex work and campaigns aimed at discriminating against the rights of this key group. And even where sex work is not subject to any administrative or criminal prosecution, police raids, violence, humiliation, and insults from society and even family members are not uncommon.

The REActors of the EECA region make every effort to constantly monitor and address situations where there is a violation of the rights of sex workers and workers. Today we bring to your attention several publications with an overview of the situations in Moldova, Tajikistan, and Georgia, as well as the support and struggle of paralegals against discrimination against this key group in these countries.

Tajikistan. Said, REActor: “…I made a rule for myself: once you start to defend, then fight to the end. Otherwise, you will lose both trust and authority.”

Georgia. Kakha Kvashilava, REAct National Coordinator: “The attitude towards violence in the country is as strict as possible, therefore the attitude of the police towards the victim from this key group is the same as in any other case: adequate and within the framework of the powers granted by law.”

Moldova. National REActor: “Persecution and violence against girls by law enforcement agencies occur on an ongoing basis, they are discriminated against and humiliated, and they can be beaten, but they refuse to write complaints, knowing that they are being prosecuted by law.”

Today and always it is worth remembering that sex work is an activity like any other, which requires acceptance and respect. And its representative – respect for the rights and non-discrimination to himself/herself and his/her choice.

Also read:

The right to a decent and fulfilling life: the world celebrates Zero Discrimination Day

Sustainability as a priority: REAct is continuing to function in Georgia in 2023

Response stories

Establish Rights-Respecting Laws: What Moldova Needs to Make a Difference and Combat Sex Work Discrimination

Moldova provides for administrative liability for engaging in sex work. The article is often applied, and in 2023 there will be a tougher punishment by increasing fines. And while this discrimination and stigmatization of sex workers breed violence, increase the vulnerability of this key group, puts their health at risk, and limits access to justice, girls, and women are willing to take risks to feed their families and survive. Many official salaries are not even enough to pay for the simplest services, so there are more and more sex workers in the country, and law enforcement officials use this article as a means of extortion, control, and punishment of those who refused to pay off.

According to one of Moldova’s national REActors, it is common for a beneficiary to be fined for a different reason, which is much higher than the penalty for sex work. For example, there was a case when a girl was fined, but another administrative violation as indicated in the protocol, since they could not prove that the beneficiary was a sex worker. Therefore, an attack and a conflict with the police were indicated. Sometimes services are not paid for, and if a girl is caught, she will have no reason to close the fine. In this connection, sex workers often try to run away or negotiate “on the spot” with the police. Persecution and violence against girls by law enforcement agencies occur on an ongoing basis, they are discriminated against and humiliated, and they can be beaten, but they refuse to write complaints, knowing that they are being prosecuted by law. And if they are consulted, then only anonymously, as they are afraid of publicity.

The presence of such fines often becomes an excellent reason for discrimination on the part of other employers: a person can be fired without benefits and explanations, or denied pay. However, if it comes to REActors, then the probability of a positive solution to the situation increases significantly. So, in one case, a former sex worker got a job caring for a disabled person. After working for 4 months, she came for a salary, but she was refused – the employer referred to the fact that she had previously provided sex services, but did not mention or warn about this when she was hired. The client turned to REActor, who promptly got in touch with him and threatened to file a complaint. A week later, the due funds were paid to the girl in full.

Even children of sex workers are discriminated against. They are teased on the streets, and sometimes in kindergartens. The REActor recorded a case when the educators asked the mother, a sex worker, to transfer the child to another preschool institution. After the paralegal learned about the situation, a consultation was held with the beneficiary, and a conversation was held with the educator and director of the kindergarten. As a result, the child was simply transferred to another group and the kindergarten did not have to be changed.

The reality is clear: Moldovan legislation regarding key populations remains repressive and discriminatory. But we must remember that for the situation to change, we need to start from the very “top”: the government should abandon the application of laws on administrative violations that punish sex work. It is necessary to stop harassment and violence against representatives of the sex industry by law enforcement agencies and allow everyone to work in safety and inadequate, equal conditions.

Also read:

Against discrimination and stereotypes of society: how REActors defend the rights of sex workers in Tajikistan

Progress of Georgia in combating violence against women and its protection mechanisms on practice

Response stories

It’s good to be alive or why self-stigma is such a high price to pay for violence against sex workers

Every year on December, 17, sex workers, their advocates, friends, families and allies celebrate the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. At first, this date was conceived as a memorial in honor the memory of the victims of the killer from Green River. In the post-Soviet region, it was proposed to celebrate this day by the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN).

REAct will join the Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers events and publish the collected evidence of violations of the rights of this vulnerable group in Kyrgyzstan, the country that managed to record the largest amount of evidence in the EECA region thanks to the effective work of non-governmental organizations and communities. We also publish the story of one of the clients who applied to illustrate the vulnerability and insecurity of sex workers.

Only during the 2020-2022, the REAct system in Kyrgyzstan registered more than 1,300 reports of violations of the rights including representatives of this key group.. More than 50% (668 cases) of registered cases reported violations of rights and discrimination by representatives of law enforcement agencies. Of the 668 cases, 34%of violations were reported by sex workers.

Sex work itself is not criminalized in Kyrgyzstan. However, everything related to it is connected, including the organization, may fall either under the norm of Art. 166 of the Criminal Code of the country – “involvement in prostitution”, or under Art. 167 – “promoting prostitution and debauchery.” Thus, in fact, sex work is criminalized and highly stigmatized. And alas, first of all, by the girls themselves.

For your help you will be punished

January 2022. Nazgul Baidovletova, public defender, «ZiOM21» Public Foundation, Talas (Kyrgyzstan) was approached by Amina (name changed). She and another girl (both sex workers) were beaten by clients. As it later became known, they wanted to rape her friend – Amina stood up for her, for which she paid such a high price…

Nazgul says that she immediately offered to write a statement and see a doctor, but the client refused. The reason for this was … the rapists themselves – it turned out that they were her acquaintances and the girl did not want to create problems and attract too much attention. Only on the third day, when the pain became unbearable, she again dialed the number of the human rights activist. Amina was immediately taken to a friendly doctor. The condition was terrible: bruises all over the body, eyes filled with blood, abdominal pain – he immediately recommended to go to the hospital. Nazgul began to emphasize again that such a case should not be ignored, and that those responsible men should be punished. But again she was refused – it seemed to the client that everything was not so serious and it was not worth exaggerating.

At the hospital, Amina was first seen by a traumatologist, but did not find anything in her profile and was redirected to a gynecologist. Examination and ultrasound in the women’s department gave a disappointing verdict – an urgent operation due to hemorrhage in the uterus. After it, the situation changed – the girl agreed to write a statement, but at the same time she called the offenders, in the hope that they would answer and help. But to no result.

We pay and the case is closed

According to the law, the gynecologist who took Amina signaled to law enforcement agencies that a patient with such a serious diagnosis was admitted, but they were in no hurry to respond. On the same day, Nazgul also applied to the district department of internal organs, but the request remained unanswered. Only the next day the police arrived and accepted the statement from the victim. But at that moment, the rapists got in touch with Amina. Upon learning that the girl turned to the authorities for help, they offered her to pay the costs of the operation if she wrote a counter statement and the case was closed. They began to put pressure on the fact that they are familiar, that they work in such an area … The girl had doubts – is she doing the right thing? As a result, Amina succumbed to their persuasion, accepted the money (the amount of 20 thousand soms, which is similar to 200 dollars) and the issue was closed.

But everything could be different

Obviously, without the intervention of paralegals, the case would not have reached law enforcement at all. However, the situation could have gone in a different, more significant “scenario”. According to the Istanbul Protocol, Kyrgyzstan has developed and implemented the ”Practical Guidelines for Documenting All Types of Violence”, according to which, when contacting a medical institution, any type of violence must be recorded by a doctor in a special form. And if the police representatives immediately responded to the call from the hospital and the appeal of the defender, took the testimony of the victim – for violators it would be a completely different article. Plus, the harm done to the health of the client has not been fully determined. But alas, the moment has passed.

Aisuluu Sharsheeva, mentor of the Street Lawyers project, comments on the situation: “When considering this and other similar situations where sex worker violence occurs, we should not miss an extremely important point – the self-stigma of our clients. Because of it, they are ready to endure pain, just not to go to the doctor, to forgive aggression and humiliation, because “such a category, they can treat us like that.” That is, instead of upholding the rights – in fact, to depend on violators. Girls are really extremely vulnerable, but they should not give up. This category must firmly change its approach, fight for its rights, otherwise everyone will forget about their existence. SWs should be understood and remembered, despite the cruel and inhuman treatment, everyone has the same rights and must be implemented.”

For reference:

REAct in Kyrgyzstan is being implemented in partnership between the Partnership Network Association and the Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan. Cases are documented by 15 NGOs that participate in the Street Lawyers project and are located in different cities and regions of the country.

The Street Lawyers initiative was launched in 2016 in response to actual problems of vulnerable groups. Street lawyers are trained employees of non-governmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan, representing and defending the interests of vulnerable groups, key in the context of curbing the HIV epidemic. In the future, street lawyers were renamed “public defenders”.

This project helps people who are in a difficult life situation. Difficulties in obtaining documents, problems with access to medical services, abuse of authority by law enforcement officers are the main of the many barriers faced by representatives of key populations. A successful case is when a person realizes that his violated rights have been restored. He feels like a full citizen. The problem was solved through negotiations and achieve for the client the restoration of his rights. The main task of street lawyers is mediation. Public defenders act as a conductor between the client and government agencies.

Also read:

Unprofessional attitude of medical stuff that brings to the violation of rights

The first judgment for discrimination based on sexual orientation in Bosnia and Herzegovina