Sex work in Russia -- criminalizing it doesn't help, but what does?

Criminalized sex work (or prostitution-- depending on where you stand in that argument) is one of those problems that everyone knows exists, but nobody knows how to solve. 

Daria Sukharchuk
Daria Sukharchuk NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Sex work in Russia -- criminalizing it doesn't help, but what does? - NewsMavens
Curb crawling, prostitute in conversation with a punter, Germany, Europe. East News

Why this story matters:

In Russia, prostitution is criminalized by a small fine, paid by the sex worker herself, and the client is exempt from any responsibility. Pimping can be punished by a heftier fine, or a prison sentence (although it's seldom enforced).

The story recommended below explains why this approach is problematic, and compares criminalization with full legalization in Germany.

And although the situation in Germany is very different from that of Russia, there's one common trait -- the absolute majority of sex workers start working in this industry because they need money.

Unfortunately, this article doesn't give much consideration to the third approach (also known as the Nordic model and which has already been used in Sweden and several other countries) which is to stop punishing sex workers and start fining their clients, while also investing heavily into social support and education for the women who want to leave the field of commercial sex.

It does, however, convey some important information about the kind of corruption and abuse of power that springs up around criminalized sex work. It also shows how inequality and poverty is the reason for its spread -- in Russia, the number of sex workers has been growing over recent years due to the economic crisis. And this is why in Germany most of the sex workers are immigrants from poorer Eastern European countries.

Details from the story:

  • There are about 1 million declared sex workers in Russia (with a population of 140 million) but the numbers could be as high as 3 million.
  • The majority of them come from a vulnerable background, with no social support to speak of, and few opportunities to earn money.
  • The most vulnerable are young women who grew up in orphanages. A third of them end up in sex work. The reason for that is lack strong social connections and crucial life skills.

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
Is something happening in your country that Newsmavens should cover?
Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
Lea Berriault-Jauvin
Lea Berriault Managing Editor
Jessica Sirotin
Jessica Sirotin EDITOR
Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko EDITOR
Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora SA Czerska 8/10 00-732, Warsaw Poland
The e-mail addresses provided above are not intended for recruitment purposes. Messages concerning recruitment will be deleted immediately. Your personal data provided as part of your correspondence with Zuzanna,Lea, Jessica and Ada will be processed for the purpose of resolving the issue you contacted us about. The data provided in your email is controlled by Agora S.A. with its registered office in Warsaw Czerska 8/10 Street (00-732). You can find more information about the processing and protection of your personal data at