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According to different estimates, there are between one and three million sex workers in Russia today. Compared to two decades ago, the industry also has a new look. Most prostitutes have moved indoors, finding their clients online instead of on street corners. The women are generally older in St. Petersburg, the average age is 32 , and a whopping 90 percent are mothers. Prostitution remains illegal, however, which exposes this labor force to additional violence, disease, and corruption.
Meduza summarizes that text here. Prostitutes who operate out of salons have to cough up half their earnings to their hosts, but that money also pays for overhead, like website management and security. Better locations also justify higher fees, but it comes with higher rent. Some prostitutes told Nazarova that they deliberately lower their prices to attract less demanding clientele.
Individual prostitutes confront serious safety concerns, as well. Some women hire private security firms and install silent alarm systems in their homes, in case a client becomes violent. Social workers and psychologists who work with prostitutes say sex workers often become desensitized to abuse on the job, and many women even are reluctant to file police reports when clients force them to perform non-consensual sex acts.
In , police arrested roughly 10, people for prostitution. In the first half of , this figure was about 4, people. Nazarova spoke to activists in several cities who teach prostitutes to insist on their rights against assault, despite whatever misdemeanors the authorities might hold over them. There are also several human rights foundations in Russia working to fight the spread of HIV among prostitutes. The organizations primarily offer free condoms and anonymous rapid HIV screening tests, sending vans to different subway stations in different cities, where prostitutes assemble for free supplies and counseling.
Igor Pchelin, the founder of Steps, has lived with HIV for the past 33 years and he told Nazarova that the counseling patients get in the first hours after a positive test result can determine whether they seek treatment or throw themselves from a window. Between and , Steps screened 2, sex workers in Moscow, 2. In Yekaterinburg, roughly 2, tests yielded 51 positive test results. In Orenburg, where sex workers were tested for HIV, almost 10 percent turned out to be infected. Sex workers told Nazarova that they rarely leave their homes because it risks public interactions with clients, and disrupts business.