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December 17 is the annual “Red Umbrella Day” – the Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

December 19, 2017

This memorable day was established in 2003, initially to commemorate the victims of a serial killer from America who tracked and murdered sex workers and teenage girls who fled their house.

Subsequently, this day has become an event of international importance, supported by more and more activists and initiatives each year, as sex workers around the world face similar forms of institutionalized violence and discrimination. Intolerance and violence against sex workers are rooted in prejudice, social stigma and criminalizing legislation. The widespread intolerance contributes to the crime against people who themselves observe the laws in all other aspects.

Currently the trial of Vyacheslav Datsik, a Neo-Nazi organization member, is ongoing in St.-Petersburg. He is accused of violent assaults at a brothel on Vasilievsky Island: he and his cronies broke into the “apartments”, forcibly drove naked girls and their clients out on the street and chased them to the police station. Later he was found to have committed dozens of similar attacks on the brothels. The case against Datsik was initiated only on the basis of two episodes envisaged by the Criminal Code articles “Violation of the integrity of the house” and “Robbery”. All other offences committed by him are being silenced.

Irina Maslova, coordinator of the Silver Rose NGO operating under the GF Program, believes that it is necessary to initiate cases regarding all other 50 “brothel raids”. Moreover, not only Datsik, but also the police officers should be held responsible.  If these were naked men forcibly driven along the street, the police would react. But the offenders were chasing women. And the police staff automatically formed an attitude pattern: “These are women – prostitutes – one can do anything to them”.

The police’s inaction provoked permissiveness of violence against sex workers: Datsik now has followers. At the end of May 2017 the news circulated all over the Internet about the father of three children on Yamal, who severely beat and raped sex workers from Yekaterinburg. The injured girl says that the rapist hired a lawyer and, as she and her friends believe, will try to evade responsibility. However, she is resolute to do anything to have him sentenced. “They told me that it’s the second time he climbs through the window in the victim’s room and the fourth time he rapes visiting girls. Many of them did not submit a statement of crime to the police, but just took their possessions and left the area, – Tatyana says. – I feel sorry for his wife and three children, but the man developed a taste for violence and will continue until he starts to kill. Serial murderer Chikatilo, too, started from tormenting victims whom he would release at first, he began to kill later. I want to stop this. I want to be his last victim”.


Violence significantly increases the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other STIs. In total, around 18 million of HIV-positive women live in the world. A large percentage of HIV transmission among heterosexual populations is associated with violence. Current world statistics show that in 2016, 58% of all new HIV infections among young people aged 15 to 24 were among adolescent girls. Every hour, 50 young women around the world get infected with HIV. The risk of HIV infection is 50% higher among women who survived the violence.

There is a close relationship between the HIV infection in women and the physical and emotional abuse by their sexual partner. The WHO Guidelines for the Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment of HIV of 2014 suggest that combating violence against girls and women is directly related to curbing the epidemic. Sex workers experience not only sexual, physical (beatings) and psychological (coercion) violence more often than other women, but also suffer from economic violence, when lower payment for their work compels them to refuse buying prevention means.

In 2017, with the support of the Federal Service for Consumer Rights Oversight of the Russian Federation, the Open Institute for Population Health conducted bio-behavioral research among key vulnerable groups (PWID, MSM, FSW) in seven large cities of the Russian Federation. A total of 3744 people were tested for HIV and asked to participate in a survey with special questionnaires.

The FSW group study covered Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Perm and St. Petersburg. HIV incidence was 2.3 to 14.2%. Regarding sex workers who work on the streets and roads and had to resort to sex business because of drug addiction, then HIV incidence is even higher – up to 60%.

According to preliminary data of the Federal Center for AIDS Prevention and Control, 50.0% among newly diagnosed HIV-positive people with established infection risk factors in 2017 were infected through heterosexual intercourse. No one knows how many of them are sex workers and their partners/rapists.

In small towns and big cities of Russia hundreds of thousands of sex workers go out on the streets at night, work in salons and saunas. According to the Silver Rose movement data, their number may reach 3 million. Most of them were engaged in prostitution because of difficult conditions: these are students who earn money to pay for their studies, those having higher education but forced to leave their jobs in governmental facilities because of a humiliating level of remuneration.  A lot of former pupils of orphanages and boarding schools are engaged in home-based prostitution in those empty, unfurnished apartments in remote neighborhoods that the state has allocated to them. A significant proportion of sex workers are mothers. Society condemns and shames them.

But a sex worker is no less a person and a citizen than any other people: she has all the rights and duties envisaged by state laws and regulations. But are we democratic and civilized enough to accept and recognize this?

Silver Rose movement − the only self-organization association of sex workers in Russia − in November-December held the campaign “Cancel 6.11 – Stop Violence”, related to the Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

As part of the campaign, the Silver Rose employee Mariya Lapina made a series of commercials telling stories of sex workers from different Russian cities. Photos of sex workers (with faces covered with a red umbrella) are real, made specifically for these videos. All videos can be viewed here.

A year ago, a series of flashmobs was held to this date, when sex workers (as well as volunteers working with them under social programs) went to the streets and made photos with red umbrellas. The event was held under the slogan “While we are invisible, our pain is invisible” and took place in St. Petersburg, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Krasnoyarsk, as well as in Canada and Israel.

This year, the Silver Rose movement appealed to the President of Russia, the government and the Commissioner for Human Rights with a request to cancel Article 6.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses envisaging penalty for prostitution. The information is taken from the movement accounts in social media. The statement of the organization on their Facebook page cites “We call on you to exercise the legislative initiative right and consider introducing a bill to abolish Art. 6.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation – “Engagement in prostitution”, in the agenda of the Parliament”. The girls refer to the recommendation of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the abolition of this article in Russia as a legal substantiation.

Earlier the campaign “No Excuse to Violence” rolled out in 11 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, organized by the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS. “Violence is a key risk factor for the HIV infection of women, including sex workers, women who use drugs, transgender and other women. Global and regional assessments of violence against women and related health impact show that this is a significant public health problem. Violence against women violates human rights. According to WHO, almost one third of all women were physically and/or sexually abused by their partners, and almost 40 percent of all murders of women worldwide were committed by their partners”, the campaign organizers say.

The first FSW forum and the outcomes of the GF programs on community network strengthening and overcoming legal barriers implemented by the Silver Rose movement gave rise to the information campaign. Sex workers themselves participate in the campaign.

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