Singled out

Sex worker activists are under attack in Kyrgyzstan, writes Lauren Crosby Medlicott.

Credit: Falaq Lazuardi/Unsplash

Activist sex workers face targeted persecution from police and wider society, a report has found.

Front Line Defenders spent four years speaking to over 300 sex workers and sex worker rights defenders in Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and El Salvador. They published their findings in August.

The report found that the odds of experiencing a range of human rights violations are higher for sex workers actively engaged in defending their colleagues’ rights, due to their increased visibility.

Arrest, sexual assault in detention, home raids, physical attacks and police surveillance were common experiences for sex worker rights activists. They also reported financial struggles and discriminatory exclusion from policy making. The hostility could be triggered by a range of activities, including responding to attacks on fellow sex workers, establishing safe community spaces, ensuring public health access for sex workers, organizing gender rights training, or pushing for police reform.

Aizada, an organizer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, was sexually assaulted by a police officer in retaliation for helping another sex worker bring a complaint against him.

‘In Aizada’s case, the officer went to where she was selling sex on the street at night, forced her into his car, took her to a flat in Bishkek and demanded she rescind the complaint,’ explains Erin Kilbride, who led the Frontline Defenders research. ‘He sexually and physically assaulted her and threatened to sexually assault her children if she did not.’

Kyrgyzstan was chosen for the study as there are several active sex worker defence networks there. From mapping police checkpoints and patrols to spreading word about locations of raids, many sex worker rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan have – despite the threats they face – found radical, creative strategies to resist physical and structural violence, and to defend one another.

Aizada’s name was changed to protect her identity.