NEWS: Moscow

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Subject: NEWS: Moscow
From: Gillian Caldwell (caldwellg@LCHR.ORG)
Date: Mon Jul 19 1999 - 09:26:26 EDT


Moscow struggles to face up to rampant street prostitution

MOSCOW, July 15 (AFP) - Every night at dusk, Natasha Strogonova joins
the
bevy of women near Moscow's Dinamo sports stadium to earn in a few hours
many
times more than the monthly wages she took home in her previous job as a
store clerk.

"I have two children. I need money," said Strogonova, 28, who will spend
six
months in Moscow before returning to her home town of Ivanovo, north of
the
capital, and live off her earnings as a prostitute.

Moscow
is struggling to cope with pervasive street prostitution -- perhaps
the worst in eastern Europe -- and officials acknowledge the problem is
probably here to stay.

As many as 60,000 women work in the sex trade in Moscow, most of whom
arrive
from outlying Russian regions and former Soviet republics, according to
Viktor Yegorin, who heads a Moscow unit of the interior ministry formed
two
years ago to tackle the prostitution boom.

Lured by the prospect of higher earnings, tens of thousands of women
converge
on Moscow where living standards continue to far outrank those of
Russians in
the regions, despite last August's financial crash.

In Ivanovo, Natasha earned 500 roubles a month (25 dollars), a pittance
compared to the 25,000 roubles she is paid for performing sexual acts in
Moscow.

While some prostitutes work in hotels and escort services, most of them
walk
the streets, or rather gather at designated "tochki" (points) in the
city in
organised groups protected by bodyguards.

"Why do we have so many prostitutes ? Because our country is in a state
of
economic collapse," Yegorin said in an interview this week from his
office
near Red Square.

"As long as that issue is not being addressed, it will be very difficult
to
talk about solving Moscow's prostitution problem."

A 1997 study by the US human rights group Global Survival Network
singled out
Moscow as a hub of the eastern European sex trade, which has supplied
women
to prostitution rings in Germany, Poland, Japan and Macau.

Moscow police have recently clamped down on prostitution on Tverskaya
street,
the capital's main thoroughfare, where women once crowded the sidewalks,
drawing complaints that the city center had become a public brothrel.

The women were pushed further north near Dinamo where Natasha now works
while
others have moved to the train stations.

"We are gradually trying to gain control of the situation," Yegorin
said.

But he admitted that the efforts of his 10-man unit are often undermined
by
police who act as accomplices, helping the women obtain residence
permits and
carry out their business in exchange for bribes.

While Muscovites complain loudly about the street prostitutes who have
moved
into residential areas, politicians have stayed clear of the issue,
perhaps
sensing that they cannot promise solutions.

"We will not be able to escape this," warned Emma Safarova, the head
physician at the Sana health center which has started an outreach
project to
help the women. "If we put them on a train, they will just come back."

Since May, the Sana center is offering free health care to the women,
who are
among high risk groups for HIV infection and for other
sexually-transmitted
diseases.

The program, funded by the Russian health ministry, is keeping
up-to-date
information on the prostitutes through surveys and offers counselling to
help
them protect themselves.

It also produced a brochure this year titled "How to safely engage in
sex and
sex business" that caused a stir for its pragmatic advice to prostitutes
about condoms and dealing with clients.

Safarova contends that authorities must resist the temptation of driving
street prostitutes into the jaws of Moscow's burgeoning criminal
underworld
where they will be beyond reach.

"Hopefully, prostitution will only be a short episode in these women's
lives," she said.


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