Marina lives a double life. She is a former police officer; everyone knows about this. But hardly someone knows that now sex work and human rights activitism are her main occupations.
“Hairdresser cops” raid
“I talked to a few girls, whom those ones visited. There always are three of them. These are the man called Kolya, the shorter one, wearing a Nike sweatshirt, and another sturdy guy, taller than the second one… ”
“Seems like the cops from Balakhonovo district department give them tips. Just think about it. They go only to the place where an individual sex worker works, they do not take anything, they do not burst into the house, there are no witnesses”.
“They tried to shave me – one was holding me from behind, the second was trying to shave … I scratched the face of the smaller one and kept on kicking the other”.
“They did not threaten us with weapons, but shaved and menaced to bring the cops”.
“Today I talked to the two girls who were shaved. They recognized that guy. He visited them pretending to be a police officer who’s investigating a case. And the shavers were there shortly after him”.
“Let’s file a statement of crime”.
“And what shall we say?”
This is the discussion among sex workers of Stavropol on a Vkontakte social media page. They were intimidated by a group of bandits known as “hairdresser cops”.
Zhenya did not expect that they would come for her that evening. She invited a young man to whom she had met on the Internet. They agreed on sex services, but the guy asked to let him out on the street – pretending that he had some problems with the alarm system in the car. As soon as Zhenya opened the door of the entrance, two men in black burst into the house. They grabbed the girl by the arms, dragged her into the apartment and began to threaten her. They said that if she does not sign a paper confessing that she was a prostitute, they will disfigure her face, break her limbs. But Zhenya was not an easy one to scare. She refused to sign the paper. Then the attackers began to push and pinch her. She fell to the floor, hit her forehead. She wanted to escape, but they were holding her.
ONE OF MEN HAS GOT A SHAVING MACHINE, HE SHAVED HER HEAD AND EYEBROWS
After that, the bandits left.
Zhenya was in shock. She was overwhelmed by humiliation and anger: “How could they do this to me and go unpunished?” The girl wanted to seek justice, but she had no one to ask for help. She knew from experience that it was impossible to rely on policemen, but there was not enough money for a lawyer.
From police to prostitution
Marina was inspired to work in the police by movies and detective novels. She thought that police officers are heroes who help people, investigate enigmatic cases and arrest criminals. But quite soon she had to face a gloomier reality: the service entailed more bureaucracy than excitement, and the main task was not to help people, but to fill the reporting forms properly. Many colleagues were attracted by power and the opportunity to abuse it. The chief forced Marina to have sex with him under the threat of dismissal. “I was very vulnerable then”, the woman recalls. – I knew that if I left, the boss would do everything to prevent me from finding a job in the city elsewhere. I was disgusted, sickened, but I was afraid to refuse”.
After twenty years of service, Marina opted for retirement. The pension allowance was meagre, but there was almost no job in the Siberian town. Marina, already divorced for a long time, was bringing up a child on her own. But the transition to a “civil work” had advantages. She could have a free lifestyle, which was impossible during the service. A lonely woman registered on a dating site and began dating men. She went on dates for her own pleasure, but men often gave her money. “I sometimes asked for money for a taxi, because I was far away, and they gave the amount two or three times higher”, Marina recalls. – “I was surprised. And they said: “This is a gift for you”. Marina did not take offense, did not feel awkward. On the contrary, she was pleased. “I realized that if men offer me that money, then I’m worth it. And then why should not I make money on this?”
From prostitution to human rights activism
Like many sex workers, Marina has to hide. She knows that if she began to speak openly about her activities, it would bring forth problems both for her and her family.
“There is an opinion that prostitutes are fallen women, filthy creatures that should be stoned”, Marina smirks. – But these are ordinary people who survive the way they can. Mothers who work to feed children, do homework with them, and even are members of parent committees. Many of them have permanent partners, some even husbands.”
Three years ago, Marina learned about the organization “Silver Rose”, which protects the rights of sex workers. Also she understood that her legal education can still be useful.
SINCE THEN, SHE PROVIDES FREE LEGAL SERVICES TO SEX WORKERS EXPOSED TO VIOLENCE
“We have a lot of volunteers all over the country, but Marina has become an extremely valuable employee of the organization, especially if we take into account her deep knowledge of the legal field”, says Irina Maslova, Director of the Silver Rose. “She worked in the police, she knows this system from the inside: who to pressure, who to ask for help, what to write”.
Together with other activists of the “Silver Rose” Marina advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution, which would allow sex workers to live in safer conditions, and this, in turn, would decrease the spread of HIV infection. But it is extremely difficult to achieve decriminalization: in the opinion of the activists, the law enforcement bodies themselves are interested in preserving the illegal status of sex workers. “The police call prostitutes “bread loaves”, because they feed off of them, they collect tribute from them”, Marina explains, referring to raids, during which the police humiliate, beat and blackmail sex workers.
Marina travels every week to the street points of her city, where she communicates with sex workers and offers her services. “I do not tell them: “Quit this job”. They want to engage in prostitution, and I want them to be safe in it, so that they do not fear and do not allow anyone to offend them”, the woman explains. – “My task is to tell the girls that there is an organization that does care about them. It strives to protect them and give them the opportunity to defend themselves”.
Marina earns enough to finance her voluntary activities: she often travels around the country, conducts trainings and seminars, where she teaches sex workers to defend their rights. “The program is peer-driven and is most effective, as it enhances empathy and understanding of the problem from the inside”, says Irina Maslova from the “Silver Rose”.
Marina conducts most of the human rights activities remotely: she monitors online forums and online communities, where the sex workers seek help from her. The Director of the “Silver Rose” admits that thanks to Marina’s activities she managed to find out about many cases of violence against sex workers which otherwise would never be noticed.
Once Marina received a message from a girl from Stavropol, named Zhenya, in whose apartment the bandits burst. Zhenya sent photos of her body with bruises and hematomas, shaven head and eyebrows.
Marina tried to comfort Zhenya to the extent she was able to, and promised to help her achieve justice. From that moment, Marina began to accompany the girl at every step of the complicated legal procedure. She advised Zhenya to go to the emergency room to get a forensic record of the injuries. When, on the same day, a police officer came to her to take testimony of what had happened, the girl already had a statement written by Marina. It referred to three articles of the Criminal Code: beatings, the threat of serious bodily harm and unlawful entry into the home. Immediately after Zhenya gave the application, the activity of the “hairdresser cops” in the city suddenly faded.
For a whole month Zhenya received no information about the progress of the case. The policeman ignored her calls. But she was not alone: Marina, although at a distance, was always there. When Zhenya went to the police to demand explanations, they laughed at her: “Well, why did you write this statement? You’re a prostitute, you’re to blame… “. Marina explained her how to react correctly. “It’s none of your business how I make money. Please, do investigate the criminal case”, said Zhenya. With Marina’s help, she found photographs and personal details of bandits on the Internet and provided them to the Investigative Committee. But, despite all her efforts, the girl was told that the case was terminated “for lack of corpus delicti”. As soon as the investigation was closed, the raids of “hairdresser cops” resumed.
“Such situations occur throughout the country”, Irina Maslova comments. – Often bandits and police are friends, drink together. The case was not opened, so they can continue terrorizing sex workers”.
Marina submitted a letter to the FSB (Federal Security Bureau) indicating a clear conspiracy between the police of Stavropol and local crime. The FSB officers replied that they were not concerned with the matter, and forwarded the letter to the city administration of Stavropol, in fact, to the same people who were accused by Marina.
“I suspected that the FSB also has an interest in this whole thing. I hoped for a miracle, but miracles happen rarely”, the human rights activist notes bitterly.
Marina encouraged Zhenya not to surrender and challenge the decision in court. But Zhenya was too tired. The summer season began; she was offered a job in Turkey. She knew that sex work there was more profitable and safer than in Stavropol. So she decided to give up everything and leave.
Marina and did not communicate Zhenya for a long time. And then Marina came to rest in Turkey and took the opportunity to visit the girl. This was their first meeting in person, but it seemed that they had known each other for a long time. Women chatted cheerfully at dinner, and almost did not recall the case of “hairdresser cops”. And then they went to the beach already after dark, and swam among the black waves.
Recently, the police together with the FSB detained a gang of criminals engaged in drug trafficking, extortion and involvement in prostitution in the Stavropol sauna. The incident was shown on TV. Local sex workers recognized “hairdresser cops” among the detainees. According to Marina, the redistribution of spheres of influence in the local administration preceded the sauna raid. It is not known how much her efforts helped to curb their criminal activities.