“No one pays the fine, but the police keep doing [it for the] numbers. Then they send the letter saying the woman has to pay a fine in the small town where she lives.” This happened to one of the women sitting with us.
“It was sent to the head of the district where she lives,” Isaeva says. Her kids got bullied at school by kids who teased them by saying 'Your mum is a prostitute!
'”According to Legalife members, Ukraine’s criminal legislation against pimping, which carries a prison term, is seldom applied to pimps themselves, and more often used to punish sex workers.“No one is trying to apprehend pimps, they always go after the girls,” Isaeva tells me. The police go after drug users, not drug traffickers.
They go after sick people, common people, where it’s easy because they don’t have to use force, or put much effort into it.” Alongside Amnesty International, Legalife members have taken part in several protests where they carried red umbrellas (the worldwide symbol of the sex workers’ rights movement) and demanded the decriminalisation of sex work.
Their organisation got its start following an episode of police abuse in 2009, when Isaeva, a former sex worker who conducted outreach work with sex workers, was unlawfully detained by an anti-trafficking police unit.Everyone seems to know someone who has either worked as a translator or a copy editor creating ads that advertise women's sexual services (a good part time job for a broke literature student), a dispatcher juggling between her different mobile phones to match clients and sex workers, an administrator running a brothel, a male or female exotic dancer who occasionally sells more than dances.Iulia Tsarevska, who works for Alliance for Public Health, an organisation that provides walk-in consultations for sex workers and conducts weekly outreach work in brothels or on the highway, tells me that in the eleven years working with sex workers in Ukraine, she’s found the last two years the hardest after the country experienced a significant drop in living standards.“The violence that they face there is not much different from the violence that they face elsewhere in Ukraine,” she tells me. ” “They handcuff you with your arms behind your back and make you hang on a pole like that,” another woman tells me, miming the action by lifting her hands behind her back.
Violence is so common that, when we start talking about mistreatment at the hands of the police, all the women in the room start listing and miming what they have experienced in detention.“They beat you on the sole of your foot so as not to leave traces,” one woman tells me. “It makes your shoulders hurt so much.”Sex work is criminalised in Ukraine.
The women tell me Ukraine’s economic crisis and the hryvnia’s devaluation after Maidan have seen more women resort to sex work.