(14 Sep 1996) Russian/Nat

In Russia’s new free market prostitution is booming.

Moscow’s streets are packed with scantily-clad hookers who have flocked to the capital in search of a decent wage.

Prostitution is not a criminal offence but Moscow’s hard-pressed police force have been charged with cleaning up the capital’s streets.

But with the drastic increase in violent crime many policemen feel their efforts would be better spent elsewhere.

The free market has brought many improvements to Moscow’s streets.

Bars, restaurants and night clubs now flourish in a city that was once drab and uninviting.

But together with the nightlife has come something else rarely seen during Soviet times – street prostitution.

Every evening, as Muscovites start to make their way home, hundreds of hookers appear on the streets to begin their working day.

The deal is struck by their pimps, former prostitutes themselves, who then summon the girls so the customers can make their choice.

A steady stream of cars cruises the streets across from Russia’s parliament, one of the favourite pick-up spots for Moscow’s call girls.

But as darkness falls the Moscow City police force embarks on its nightly attempt to make a dent in a business that now dominates downtown Moscow.

Prostitution in Russia is not a criminal offence but the government considers it an embarrassment and an eyesore.

Police make routine busts but without a law to charge the girls, have to release
them within a few hours.

The majority of the girls are from the provinces and other former republics, where unemployment is high and wages low.

They are charged with not having the proper documents to be in Moscow — an
old Soviet law designed to limit movement into the capital.

Every evening police station 108 sees a constant stream of prostitutes.

The girls are processed and held for up to six hours before being put back on the streets. A bribe from their pimp can see them released immediately.

The head of Moscow’s organised crime department says that since there is no law against prostitution, his men are powerless to get the girls off the streets permanently

SOUNDBITE: (Russian)
“Even though it is quite clear that they are prostitutes the girls are detained for passport irregularities, or no Moscow registration document, that is for things which have no
connection at all with prostitution”
SUPER CAPTION: Vladimir Zolutnitsky, Chief of Moscow Organized Crime Department

In a good month a girl can earn up to three thousand dollars, a small fortune in Russia’s bleak provincial towns and villages.

But with no red light district and no brothels, the job has more than its share of risks.

SOUNDBITE: (Russian)
“You get into a car and you don’t know what will happen when you get there — who will be there or what they will do. There may be fifteen men waiting. Some girls have gone
missing for two months and then reappeared.”
SUPER CAPTION Dasha, prostitute in Moscow

Women in Russia have been hit harder than most by the transition to a market economy. Particularly those from rural Russia where the economy is at a standstill.

The result has been a massive increase in the numbers of unemployed women who flock to the capital in search of any work they can find. Many of them turn to prostitution as a last resort.

SOUNDBITE: (Russian)
“If there was work, If Yeltsin gave us the opportunity to work normally and for proper money then none of these girls would be walking the street.”
SUPER CAPTION, Sveta, prostitute in Moscow

And that would suit the police, too.

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