Human rights activists try to register sex worker non-profit

Involvement in prostitution is criminally prosecuted and is considered a serious crime punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years, while the organisation of prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years. Source: Photoxpress

Involvement in prostitution is criminally prosecuted and is considered a serious crime punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years, while the organisation of prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years. Source: Photoxpress

According to various estimates, from 700,000 to 3 million people are engaged in prostitution in Russia.

Human rights activists in St. Petersburg have decided to take the Ministry of Justice to court, after its officials refused to register a non-profit partnership of sex workers. Activists are taking legal action because they are sure that the problems faced by this category of people can be solved – when the profession stops being considered a criminal activity. According to various estimates, from 700,000 to 3 million people are engaged in prostitution in Russia.

Prostitution is illegal in Russia, and according to rough estimates of the Rospotrebnadzor and the Ministry of Health, up to one million people are involved in this field. According to the organization Serebryanaya Roza (Silver Rose), an informal movement dealing with the issues of sex workers, the numbers are much higher – about three million. To be able to defend the rights of sex workers, the activists tried to register a non-profit organisation this May. However, the Ministry of Justice refused to register it, and now the human rights activists are turning to the courts.

In Russia, prostitution is an administrative offence, punishable by a fine. Involvement in prostitution is criminally prosecuted and is considered a serious crime punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years, while the organisation of prostitution is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years. However, the Code of Administrative Offences also provides an administrative penalty – a fine of up to 2,500 roubles for the earning of income from the prostitution of another person.

“Serebryanaya Roza grew out of several volunteer and charitable projects that work with the problems of prostitution,” says Irina Maslova, who heads this movement. She used to work for a charitable organisation involved in similar causes, but the international project, which financed their activities, was closed down.

“We met with a lot of success. We worked with street prostitution in St. Petersburg, Irkutsk and Chelyabinsk. When the project was completed, the officials of the Ministry of Health were supposed to take over the functions of preventive work with prostitutes, but they did not. On our own initiative, we organised a couple of conferences, and then decided to join forces with our wards and establish an association,” says the human rights activist. She says that many people, who for whatever reason find themselves in the sex services industry, need their help. “Our clients are men, women and transgender people. Their ages range from 18 to 72. They have completely different incomes and social status, as well as various working conditions. Brothel owners, who use doctors with whom we work and ask them to examine their employees, are also interested in our activities,” Maslova says.

She feels that under the human right to privacy, protected by the Constitution, prostitution can be removed from the list of criminal trades, and people can become the masters of their own bodies.

The registration of the non-profit organisation was refused, based on formal reasons, she explained to RIR: “We were even accused of inciting ethnic hatred, and all but accused of extremism. In addition, officials say that this profession does not exist in the official classification of occupations, and therefore, such an association cannot be established. We need this organisation to help this category of people to solve their own problems. Protect them from unfair and corrupt law enforcement agents.”

Irina Maslova does not have much hope in parliamentarians, because most often she only finds their desire to earn extra political points on an issue that is clear to everyone.

Daria Miloslavskaya, Chair of the Council of the Non-Profit Partnership Lawyers for a Civil Society and member of the Public Chamber of Russia, explains that many non-profit organisations face difficulties when trying to register. “The Ministry of Justice has certain requirements, but the law does not precisely define these, and so this leads to similar negative results,” Miloslavskaya says.

She feels confident that from the legal point of view that Serebryanaya Roza has the potential to be registered, but they would need to seriously think about the form and shape of their organisation. “I believe that it has been mistakenly named. When it comes to helping people in the sex industry, it is not an association. An association must include only workers of this sector, not human rights activists or lawyers. It is rather an organization, providing aid or assistance services to sex workers, and this form of organization has a different statute and different administrative bodies. If you choose a wrong form, you may also get a refusal from the Ministry of Justice,” says Miloslavskaya.

Vitaly Milonov, Member of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, said in a conversation with a correspondent from Komsomolskaya Pravda that the organisation has no chances of getting registered and that its organisers may well become involved in criminal or administrative proceedings, because authorities can discern here a stimulation and involvement in prostitution.

As for the moral aspect of the organisation, experts often agree with the Serebryanaya Roza. They also see a need to exclude prostitution from the criminal net. “I believe that in part we have to legalise prostitution. No country in the world has fully legalised this profession, everywhere there are some limitations,” says Mark Levin, Head of Micro-Economic Analysis Department of the Higher School of Economics.

The same opinion is shared by the Head of the Centre for Legal and Psychological Assistance in Emergency Situations, the criminal psychiatrist Mikhail Vinogradov. He also believes that there are more people involved in this activity, much more than three million, and it will be better if they paid taxes. “In many countries the sex industry is a legal activity, and it brings a great deal of income in the form of taxes to the state budget. As with any industry, there is a dark side to it, but that is only a small detail. Legalisation may solve not only financial problems but also those related to health. There are women who, for medical reasons, need to have sex more often than they can have it in the family. These are serious mental and hormonal problems,” explains the psychiatrist. According to the expert, the presence of the sex industry is a normal characteristic of any society.

Similar professional associations exist in Germany, the UK, Netherlands, France, Australia, and Brazil.

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