Health and Human Rights 2014, 16/2
The existing legal framework in Russia makes sex work and related activities punishable offenses, leaving sex workers stigmatized, vulnerable to violence, and disproportionally affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In 2013, the Ministry of Justice, supported by the courts, refused registration and official recognition to the first all-Russia association of sex workers, referring to the fact that sex work is under administrative and criminal punitive bans and therefore the right of association for sex workers is unjustified. In light of international human rights standards, in particular the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, we examine in this paper whether the overall punitive legal ban on sex work in Russia is discriminatory. The government’s positive obligations concerning discrimination against sex workers whose activities are consensual and between adults, and whose working conditions leave them among society’s most vulnerable, should outweigh their punitive laws and policies around sex work. The scope of legal criminalization is narrow: it should apply only in exceptional cases where it is clearly justified.