Macedonia Group Protects Rights of Sex Workers Through Video and Legal Advocacy

In Macedonia, law enforcement and public officials routinely violate the human rights of women and men who engage in sex work. The OSI Public Health Program and the Foundation Open Society Institute-Macedonia are supporting Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS) to develop legal responses to human rights abuses against sex workers.

The project comes after repeated violations of sex workers' rights to security, privacy, and protection against inhuman and degrading behavior or punishment. In November 2008, police conducted a raid in a well-known sex work zone in Skopje, in which more than 30 people were arrested without explanation and subjected to forced testing for "infectious diseases." Following the raid, the Ministry of Interior published photos of the sex workers on its website, and media outlets published photos and video of the women held in detention. Seven of the women tested positive for hepatitis C and are facing criminal charges for allegedly "transmitting an infectious disease."

HOPS is supporting the sex workers in three resulting cases, including: the criminal case in which seven women face charges for the alleged transmission of hepatitis C; a civil case on behalf of 13 women against the Ministry of Interior and a health clinic for breach of privacy and inhumane and degrading punishment; and a civil case against five media outlets that were found to have breached the women's right to privacy by Macedonia's Directorate for Personal Data Protection.

In addition to its legal efforts, HOPS has collaborated with the video advocacy organization WITNESS to produce the video "You Must Know About Me," which provides a firsthand account of the raid and discusses sex workers' broader experiences and aspirations off and on the streets. The video advocacy campaign aims to open a dialogue with law enforcement officials to reduce the number of violent incidents committed against sex workers by police officers, and to improve police response when violence against sex workers is committed by third parties. As a critical first step, in October 2009, the video was screened to the highest ranking Macedonian law enforcement officials, who commented that the video realistically depicts the situation and agreed that the screening opened the door for trust-building between police and sex workers.

More information on the raid can be found on the HOPS website.

To view the video, which is available in three languages (Macedonian, Russian, and English), please visit the WITNESS Hub website.