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Sex in the city (or not) – Odessa

March 22, 2016

There are perhaps few older professions than prostitution.  Those of espionage and warfare are possibly equally as old, and all have been actively engaged in by human civilisation for as long as civilisation has managed to record history for posterity (and no doubt prior).

The issue of prostitution, no differently to those of espionage and warfare, naturally lead to robust discussion and quite often polarised positions within society.

For the record, this blog is socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  It’s flag is very solidly planted in the ground is that of rule of law in order to have a an anchor within the myriad of smoke and mirrors, complex issues, tricks and deceits that being human and part of civilisation throws up to challenge individual morality and/or collective ethic.

That is not to say the law cannot be an “ass” as the Dickensian quote goes, nor that a law should be accepted unconditionally.  If “the law is an ass” then there generally are mechanics to amend or repeal statute.  There are also laws that are so widely ignored by society and unenforced by the State that their very existence de facto ceases to exist.

Regarding any legislation, especially proposed legislation, there are simple questions to ask.  Is the law necessary?  If “Yes”, OK  If so, does its content advance justice?  If “Yes” then OK.  Will it adversely effect basic and fundamental rights?  If “No” then OK.  Opposing answers to any of those given should give rise to reconsideration of the proposed legislation.

Ukraine will be revisiting a lot of its existing, post-Soviet legislation in an effort to “Europeanise” its statute book.  It will not find a “pan-European” answer to quite a lot of it.  Prostitution will be one of those areas where there is no “European” answer, despite every nation across the continent of Europe since time immemorial having active prostitutes (both male and female).

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In some nations, prostitution is illegal – it is that simple.  In others it is legal.  In many it sits in a grey area where some situations relating to prostitution are legal and other situations illegal.  In some nations, a prostitute (or two) can work from a domestic dwelling selling sex and remain within the law.  Three working from that dwelling then makes it a brothel as defined by law – and thus illegal.  In other nations, brothels are legal, taxed and employees subject to regular medical checks – yet street walkers are illegal.

Then there are the massage parlours, visiting masseuses, escorts, gentleman’s clubs, entertainment centres et al, which whilst offering services within the law, also infer (often correctly) that services outside the law are also available.

All rather complex shades of legal right and wrong – and no degree of illegality (or otherwise) seems to have any effect when it comes to absolute prohibition becoming a reality (as human history ably displays).  The question that presents itself for Ukraine when it revisits its prostitution laws, is whether to leave them as they are, or relax them – and if relaxed to what degree?

If legalising, or decriminalising (not the same thing) prostitution, is it done to the point of it becoming a taxable profession by the State, and thus a profession that need not hide from the authorities but can indeed expect its protection?

What effects would that have upon the associated criminality such as “pimping” and human trafficking (people smuggling is not the same thing) – regardless of any additional fiscal revenue?

Would there be societal health benefits to doing so regarding HIV or STDs?  What are the experiences of other European nations?

Odessa is a transit route from MENA, to MENA, (mostly via Turkey and Iran), it is also source as well as an end destination with regard to human trafficking (be it sex or labour related).

Whatever decisions are eventually made by the national legislature, will there be an associated “public education campaign” associated with any changes?  State institutions and authorities whilst the first line of detection are not and cannot be the be-all and end-all.  For a start, one of the obvious indicators of trafficking is the victim is indeed the fear of the authorities and state institutions.  There are other obvious signs at points of entry and egress that trained State employees would recognise.  Just as importantly for a Ukrainian internal strategy would be an awareness campaign among landlords, hotel staff, medical staff, housing authorities, pub, club and bar owners, NGOs and civil society that deal with domestic violence, prostitution, truancy  etc – as well as a well publicised hot-line to report suspect incidents that fall without any legal changes – and this is broad brush-strokes, without going into the nuts and bolts, but a more liberal approach to prostitution  should not lead to a blind eye to trafficking or coerced participation.

Currently in Odessa there seems to be something of a crack down, with 3 pimps arrested in one incident (21st March), and a “Cam-Girl” studio also closed down and the two organisers arrested (22nd March).  Of note, in these reports there is no mention of the outcomes for those involved in the physical delivery of services.  Were any trafficked and/or coerced?  If so were they treated as victim rather than offender?

Similar “flesh-cam” entities in Odessa have also been shut down following police action over previous months.

Of the strip clubs in Odessa city centre, Flirt, Axis, Casanova, Rasputin, The Office etc – at least one owner has had police visits too.  It may be coincidence such visits occurred as “flesh-cam” operations and pimping are also targeted.  It may be due to tectonic shifts in the underworld, it may be due to routine checks, or it may be due to intelligence led policing.

The crack down is of course both within and also upholding the current laws – just as a previous gambling (which is also illegal) campaign was.  The outcome, naturally, is that illegal gambling remains in Odessa, and unfortunately the proposed legislation allowing return of gambling in no way even attempts to legitimise what exists – and thus it will continue to exist illicitly.

The outcome of a crack down on the sex trade will be just as ineffective under current legislation.

Prickly as these legislative and societal issues may be, if there is to be a genuine attempt to re-orientate a post-Soviet society to a “European” one, they are issues that will have to be faced.

A reader may ponder whether as and when Ukraine (and it surely will in an attempt to legitimise currently vast illegitimate money flows) addresses its prostitution legislation (with a confused eye upon radically differing domestic European laws), it arrives at any legislative changes that aim to create a “pimp” free, trafficking highlighting, coercion-less, safer climate for the men and women that choose (whatever the reason for that choice) the profession at the forefront of any legislative text allowing for tax collection that may follow.

Simply creating legislation that creates conditions that can be met by only a few vested interests, and a newly State taxable part of the economy, seems unlikely to enhance justice (in the broadest sense of the word) – very much like the proposed gambling legislation fails to do.

Whatever the outcome, a conversation has already begun among certain legislators regarding changing the sex selling rules whilst the police in Odessa are rightfully and actively upholding (whatever the motivation and/or duration) the current legislation.

Sex in the city – or not – and if so under what new rules, is an issue that will undoubtedly reach the legislature in the near/medium term.   How Ukraine handles it is far from certain.

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