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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