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“On time!” CO «Legalife-Ukraine» organized a series of public discussions on the Legislative Regulation of Sex Work in Ukraine
On September 14, 2020, during the International Sex Workers’ Pride Day, activists of CO “Legalife-Ukraine” organized a series of public discussions and flash mobs in support of the Legislative Regulation of Sex Work in Ukraine. Press conferences, public discussions and flash mobs took place in Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Cherkasy and Poltava cities of Ukraine.
Sex Workers Pride Day is the fourth International Day of Sex Workers’ Rights. This date was established 2 years ago by the International Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) to celebrate the self-determination of sex workers and to showcase the achievements of organizations led by sex workers.
The Sex Workers’ Pride is an opportunity to share stories about sex workers’ self-determination and the achievements of the sex workers’ rights movement over the past year.
According to research as of 2019, there are about 86,000 sex workers in Ukraine. This is one of the most discriminated and stigmatized social groups in Ukraine. Illegal detentions, abuse by the police, physical violence of various degrees of cruelty, refusal to hire or study on the basis of HIV status, refusal to issue documents – this is an incomplete list of rights that are systematically violated. Another challenge is the criminalization of sex work in Ukraine, which has a direct impact on the spread of HIV.
Nataliia Isaieva, director of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”:
“In recent weeks, we have seen everywhere in the mass media some statements of local politicians that the consideration of public legislative initiatives and and wide public discussion on the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups of Ukrainian citizens is “not on time”. “Not on time” is discussion of the legal regulation of sex work, “not on time” is decriminalization of HIV status, “not on time” is adoption of the Bill on medical cannabis decree, and it looks like public discussion of civil partnership registration will not happen during our lives. In our opinion, such a rejection of socially important topics on which the lives and health of thousands of Ukrainian citizens depend is unacceptable. And we do not want to know when it will be “on time” for the authorities. Our activists are open for dialogue and public discussion of these topics every day. Therefore, on September 14, during the International Sex Workers’ Pride Day, we took another step forward and organized a series of public discussions in different cities of Ukraine by ourselves. We have been joined by journalists, lawyers, cultural and public activists, so now I am sure that our slogan “Decriminalization – already!” is more relevant than ever.”
“How to prevent human rights violations in cases involving sex work.” This topical issue was discussed during a press conference at the Kharkiv Press Club. One of the main points made by the participants of this event is that people cannot be prosecuted for a “crime” during which no one was injured. The event was attended by representatives of the UMDPL Association (Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement), the Kharkiv Charitable Foundation “BLAGO” and a lawyer from the law firm “Donets and Partners”.
Nataliia Karagashova – CO “Legalife-Ukraine” representative in the Kharkiv region:
“Sex work is not recognized as work in our country. A number of articles of the Administrative and Criminal Codes generally make it a crime. Our clients are exactly the same people as we are. They also need protection, but because their work is illegal, they cannot simply turn to the police, doctors, or any government agency. And even if they apply, they get an administrative protocol instead of protection.”
On September 14, during the International Sex Workers Pride Day, a round table “Rights of Sex Workers Today” took place in Cherkasy. The video “Amoral article” was viewed at the event.
Taras Scherbatyuk, head of the Public Reception Center of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, joined the event with a presentation on «Ukrainian legislation and its impact on the situation of sex workers». Psychologist Lyudmila Gavrilyuk explained «The difficulties of providing psychological assistance related to stigmatization, self-tigmatization and discrimination of sex workers».
The long discussion was joined by Lyudmyla Protsenko, Regional Coordinator of Public Relations of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Commissioner for Human Rights in Cherkasy Oblast, Volodymir Ostrovnoy, regional representative of CO CF “VOLNA” and Inna Chenbay, social work specialist in Cherkasy regional center of social services for family, children and youth.
On September 14, 2020, CO “Legalife-Ukraine” invited media representatives and activists to their office for a press lunch dedicated to the International Sex Workers’ Pride Day.
During the three-hour discussion, the main issues raised were – criminalization, stigmatization and discrimination of a large group of Ukrainian citizens on the basis of their occupation.
Impressions of the participants of the press lunch after the event
Viktor Ruban choreographer, researcher, director, performer and coach:
“Because my work is about personal growth and working with the body in general, the topic of sex and sexuality is now very relevant. And it is relevant not only for me and not only in our country, but in many countries around the world. This is evidenced in particular by the statistics of the rapid increase in the number of divorces and domestic violence during recent quarantine shutdowns. Also, many of my colleagues in Ukraine who work as psychotherapists and sexologists say that the topics of corporality and understanding one’s sexual nature are taboo and this very low level of sexual awareness leads to catastrophic consequences here in Ukraine. Too many people suffer on this basis because the displacement of such basic aspects leads to depression and frustration. Therefore, (when we talk about the decriminalization of sex work and its removal from the shadows, we are also talking about clarifying the rules and regulations concerning the body and corporeality. Because there are many patterns and norms that had sense in the 18th and 19th centuries, but today we live in a very dynamic world that has changed attitudes, flow of information, communication and so on.
The policing of our bodies and the patronal politics they are awailable, they live and they are “on the march”. Therefore, it is really time now, if we are talking about change, about a society of solidarity and mutual respect, responsibility, about democratic values, freedoms and rights – then we need to talk if it is something to decide. Everyone has the right to take responsibility for his or her life and this is where a healthy society of consent, of mutual respect, dignity and tolerance begins”.
Victoria Nazaruk, a lecturer of journalism at the Ostroh Academy:
“Within the framework of teaching the course “Problem of MASS-MEDIA”, we analyze sensitive topics with students. This year I decided to pay attention to the issues of stigmatization of vulnerable groups, combating human trafficking, to study the issue of victimization and models on the legal regulation of sex work. In the context of the latter I decaded to clarify the understanding of decriminalization and legalization. That’s why I responded to the invitation to join the press lunch organized by CO “Legalife-Ukraine”. I admit that from an ethical point of view, it is difficult for me to accept certain points related to the regulation of sex work. However, I am convinced that personal assessments should not prevent a comprehensive analysis of the issue and its competent coverage. None of the sensitive topics should be silenced and I’m sure that extensive discussions can stimulate a solution to the problem at the legislative level. In addition, behind each of the topics there are human lives and personal stories, and that’s exactly what should be the object of journalistic interest.
On this day, flash mobs in support of the Legislative Regulation of Sex Work in Ukraine also took place in Odesa and Poltava cities.