Sex Never Stops Selling. Even in Conservative Tajikistan

Tajikistan is turning the lights out on prostitution. Wikipedia image of Amsterdam's red light district. For representation purposes only.

Tajikistan is turning the lights out on prostitution – or is it? Wikipedia image of Amsterdam's red light district. For representational purposes only.

Sex was been at the top of conservative Tajikistan's agenda last week as the government cracked down on sex workers while the country's first online sex shop stirred both excitement and disapproval.

According to new amendments to a law on prostitution, sex workers caught breaking the law a second time will get bigger penalties and potentially face up to two weeks in jail.

The state's crackdown on sex workers dates back at least to last year. In the spring and summer of 2014 authorities raided night clubs, restaurants and bars, hotels, and red light districts in search of sex workers, shaming those they detained.

The militantly secular government's media also stated this year that sex workers were wearing hijabs to cover up their activities, without offering convincing proof for the accusation. The clients of sex workers are not punishable under Tajik law, although in practice many usually pay bribes in order not to see their faces appear on TV bulletins or on the interior ministry's website.

With the public campaign against sex work failing miserably, Tajik internet users are divided over whether harsher punishments will lead to any change in the situation.

Comments on the topic ranged from extreme anger:

Их надо казнить ,по закону шариат !!!АТО через пару недель они занимаются своего грязной дело.

They should be executed under Sharia law. Otherwise, they will return to their dirty job in two weeks.

…to calls for mercy and understanding:

Они не от хорошей жизни наверное вышли в панель

They went to brothel not from a good life.

Other comments, even those sticking up for the sex workers, betrayed the patriarchy common to internet commentary in Tajikistan:

Да ещё была бы нормальная работа в Таджикистане, то 100% они на панель не вышли бы, а жить всем хочется хорошо, людям с образованием с хорошей зарплатой не найти, а куда идти тем у кого нет образования? Это тут такие смелячки пишут пошла бы туалеты мыть, агаааааа это только слова, а коснись так и тоже пойдёшь ноги раздвигать, вкусно покушать , красиво одеться и т.д

If there were good jobs in Tajikistan, no-one would go to work in a brothel, that is for sure. Everyone wants to have a good life. Well-educated people cannot find jobs with good salaries, how can the uneducated find a job? Those girls who say, that they would prefer to wash restrooms — you are just saying that. If you were in the situation of those women, you would also push your legs apart to eat and dress well.

Others still challenged the MPs to see the irony in the law they had just passed:

Внимание вопрос – каким путем они должны заработать на штраф? – отвечает господин Паташов

I have a question – how should these women work to earn money to pay the fines?

В ответ на этот шаг, проститутки подняли тарифы на обслуживание.

Responding to this law, prostitutes increased the price of their services….

Little else to sell

Tajikistan has faced tough economic and social challenges since independence from the Soviet Union and the outbreak of a civil war that raged from 1992 to 1997. Widespread corruption, bad management, tribalism and a lack of the rule of law are helping to destroy the country, which is more dependent on remittances sent home by migrants than any other in the world.

Hard times have also befallen economic and political patron Russia, resulting in a rebound effect. Just days ago Tajikistan was named the country most vulnerable to hunger in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

The situation is especially difficult for women, whose husbands leave for Russia and then often disappear without a trace, sometimes re-marrying.

A woman who has already been married finds it difficult to re-marry, since men in the majority-Muslim republic tend to demand virginity as a precondition for marriage. This has even led to the rise of virginity tests, billed as the basis of a happy marriage.

Economic desperation in the country has driven some young mothers to suicide, while some others choose prostitution, either at home or abroad in Russia.

Facebook user Dilovar Munavvarov explains why jailing sex workers stops nothing and increases the already significant risks they face:

НЕТ. Повышение штрафов и 15 суток сделают ситуацию намного хуже. Если немного подумать то будет следующее: 1. Чтобы избежать штрафов и арестов и секс работники и их клиенты станут искать места подальше от глаз милиции и людей – а это значить больше вероятности причинения побоев, насилия, жестокости, и далее по списку. Ведь кругом никого нет. 2. Все будут стремиться завершить процесс побыстрее – а это меньше времени чтобы подумать и применить средства защиты от инфекций. Результат – выше вероятность получить болезнь передающуюся половым путем. 3. Больше возможностей у части сотрудников милиции злоупотреблять своим положением угрожая арестом, штрафами, обнародованием информации. А это насилие, отбор денег, побои и тд. Причем все это может происходить в милицейском участке. И да, любого задержанного после насилия можно обвинить в проституции. Поди потом доказывай. 4. Понижает доступ к правосудию так как секс работники и клиенты не могут/боятся подать заявление в суд если они столкнулись с правонарушением в ходе своей деятельности. Как подать заявление за избиение/насилие со стороны клиента или милиционера если в результате можно получить штраф до 300 долларов и 15 суток. …

NO. Increasing fines and jailing them will worsen the situation and might have the following outcomes: (1) To avoid arrest sex workers and their clients will look for remote places, which will in turn endanger these women, as they might be beaten etc; (2) Everyone will try to end the process faster. They will have less time to think about protection from infectious illnesses; (3) More grounds for police to misuse their power, i.e. beatings, violence, bribery, blackmailing etc […] plus anyone detained and subjected to violence could be accused of prostitution; (4) Less courage for sex workers and their clients to seek justice and protection in the case of violence.

How will you complain about being beaten by police or a client, if as a result you will get a $200 fine or 15 nights in jail?

Talking shop

The anti-prostitution law has coincided with broad condemnation this week of a recently opened Facebook sex-shop in the country. The shop's page has since been deleted having aroused both interest and criticism.

A woman, who came under fire for posting her positive views on the shop's work concluded:

О чем можно говорить, если я выссказала свое положительное мнение, так ко мне в друзья уже набиваются многие из подписчиков данного поста))) любите своих жен, дружите с ними!!!

It seems that the people discussing this topic are now sending me friend requests because of my positive view on the [shop] :-) Love your wives, and friend them [instead]!

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