By Marija Tosheva and Voskre Naumoska Ilieva
Today is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and we are thinking back to the events of November 21st, 2008 in Skopje, Macedonia. That night, 23 sex workers, 8 clients, several passers-by and one NGO activist were detained in a police raid geared toward the “suppression of street prostitution”. Most of those arrested were released after several hours, but sex workers were held all night long. The following day, the sex workers were forcibly tested for HIV and Hepatitis C. They were publicly exposed via media without any identity protection. The police then filed criminal charges against the seven sex workers who tested positive for Hepatitis C, claiming that they spreading infectious diseases.
In response, a group of the raided sex workers were encouraged to initiate the first-ever civil lawsuits against the institutions and media that violated a number of their human rights.
Sex work still represents an illegal and extremely stigmatized activity in Macedonia and elsewhere in the world, and this puts the dignity and human rights of sex workers under permanent threat. Those in the sexual industry—including women, men and transgender persons—daily face unequal treatment in institutions, unequal access to services, heightened prejudices, negative media image, and various other forms of violence.
The 2008 raids sparked great national and international attention, and Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS) joined forces with WITNESS to document them. The result was a video called You Must Know About Me – Rights, not Violence for Sex Workers in Macedonia. The video was used in a broad advocacy campaign for promotion and protection of rights of sex workers in the country and abroad.
These videos document the lawsuits initiated against and on behalf of sex workers, as a result of the police raids. They provide objective overview of the court proceedings so that to the professional and wider public can have insights of this violation of human rights committed against socially marginalized communities. These cases present the first such procedure in Macedonia. As such, documenting their journey to a legal resolution will provide an opportunity for future analyses of court practices and directions for representatives of all marginalized communities that face similar situations.
Waiting for the Inevitable – the Right to Privacy and the Media follows and documents the lawsuit filed by three sex workers against five media outlets (printed and electronic) for violation of their right to privacy.. This video analyses and opens a debate about the role of the media in the violation and promotion of the rights of sex workers, and of marginalized communities in general.
Waiting for the Inevitable – Criminalization of HIV/STD Transmission traces the effects of Criminal Code Article 205, which was used for detaining, testing, and prosecuting the sex workers who tested positive for Hepatitis C. Experts from the area of HIV prevention and human rights discuss how this article’s use by police and courts ends up working against effective policies to prevent infectious diseases among vulnerable groups. The video also calls for a wider and more detailed analysis of Article 205 and its interpretation in court practice, and whether it violates equal respect for all individuals’ human rights.
Finally, Waiting for the Inevitable – Systematic Violation of Human Rights documents the experiences of lawyers representing 13 sex workers in the civil procedings against the Republic of Macedonia (MOI, First Instance Court Skopje 1) and the Clinic for infective diseases in Skopje. The suit seeks damage compensation, claiming violations of the workers’ rights to privacy, freedom from torture, and freedom from inhumane or degrading treatment and punishment.
These videos were produced by The Screaming Snails – a women’s production collective that came out of trainings involving WITNESS and HOPS in 2009/2010, and its support since that time. We believe in sophisticated, handcrafted aesthetics and narratives presented through the lens’ of women artists, especially when presenting sensitive issues. A group of activists and artists coming from Bosnia, Serbia, and Macedonia, The Screaming Snails has founded a portal that should serve as an independent media. It will provide grassroots coverage of violations of human rights and issues concerning marginalized populations. Read more and see more on our webpage.
Voskre Naumoska Ilieva is the Program Assistant for services for sex workers. She was previously a social worker, followed by a position as Coordinator of Drop-in center for supporting sex workers. She has been working on sex work issues at HOPS for 5 years.
Marija Tosheva is the Director of the Program for services within HOPS and advocacy officer at SWAN (Sex Worker’s Rights Advocacy Network in CEE and CA). In the last 12 years, she worked on developing comprehensive services for sex workers in Macedonia, supporting sex workers’ self-organized movement in Macedonia, and national and regional advocacy for sex workers’ health and rights. In 2008-2010 Marija collaborated with WITNESS to produce the video ‘You Must Know About Me’ and introduce video advocacy to Macedonia and to HOPS’s work.