When it comes to shaping health and social policies, rarely are the voices of those excluded and marginalized from society heard in these discussions. Policymakers generally prefer to keep sex workers hidden in the shadows.
But in Macedonia, sex workers are using video advocacy as a way to raise their voices and combat the extensive police violence and abuse that they suffer. In the above video, You Must Know About Me: Rights Not Violence for Sex Workers in Macedonia, sex workers speak directly to police and advocate for their rights.
In October 2009, the video was screened to the highest ranking Macedonian law enforcement officials, who agreed that it realistically depicts the situation. As a result of a new alliance between police and sex workers, the video is now included in the 2010 training program “Macedonia without Discrimination” for judiciary and police officers through the country.
The video, a collaboration between Healthy Options Projects Skopje (HOPS) in Macedonia and WITNESS (with support from OSI), is part of a national campaign calling for zero tolerance when it comes to violence against sex workers. While dealing with harassment and violence from the police, clients, and pimps, sex workers strive to counter hostile public attitudes by speaking out and fighting for their rights.
Sex workers from Macedonia report that police are the biggest threats to their safety. In a study documenting the extent of police violence in 11 countries, every sex worker interviewed from Macedonia reported being physically assaulted by police in the past year. The study, Arrest the Violence: Human Rights Abuses Against Sex Workers in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, uncovered a systemic pattern of police extortion that is enforced through threats, beatings, and rape. The routine physical and sexual abuse, extortion, and bribery faced by sex workers from police happen in a climate of impunity. Police rarely face any consequences from this gross abuse of power.
You Must Know About Me has been screened in the Netherlands, Russia, Bulgaria, and Kyrgyzstan and has been widely distributed through human rights and sex worker service networks in the region.
The reaction from police in Macedonia has been promising. We hope this video has ripple effects throughout the region.