Let’s (Not) Talk about Sex

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“Relaxation 24 hours,” Petrograd, December 2014. The city’s pavements, walls, and billboards are teeming with such offers of paid sex.

Every day more than 200 new cases of HIV are registered in Russia, and by the end of 2015 the number of HIV-positive Russians will exceed 1 million, according to news reports released on Monday, World AIDS Day.

Russia’s health and safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor told Interfax that “860,000 HIV-positive people are currently registered in Russia, and every year this figure increases by 10 percent.”

In a speech to the State Duma on Monday, Anna Popova, head of Russia’s health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said that 75 percent of males who became infected with the virus this year had become HIV-positive by taking drugs. This leads to severe damage to the country’s economy, as these men are usually in their most productive years, she said.

Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, said that contrary to popular belief in Russia, only 1.1 percent of cases are registered among gay men. The rest are “heterosexuals who lead normal sex lives,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Many regions do not have enough money to provide sufficient medication for HIV-positive people, Pokrovsky said.

“The number of HIV-positive people is growing very quickly. In three years it has increased by 200,000, while the amount of money allocated from the budget to deal with the problem has not changed,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Russia has come under international criticism for its policy on HIV, such as prohibiting opiate-replacement therapy using drugs such as methadone. The practice has been shown to reduce needle sharing among drug addicts, thus reducing the HIV infection rate. The government has also been reluctant to embrace needle-exchange programs, another weapon proven to be effective in combatting the disease.

Critics also argue that more preventative measures need to be taken, starting with increased sex education in schools.

—Ivan Nechepurenko, “Number of Russians With HIV to Reach 1 Million by 2016,” The Moscow Times, December 1, 2014

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You don’t need sex education when you have Russian literary giants Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky to enlighten you on the murky realities of the bedroom.

This, at least, appears to be the view of Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, who said on Monday that the country would not introduce sex education in schools because it contradicts Russia’s moral norms and traditions.

“I am often asked: When will you have sex education? I say: Never,” Astakhov snapped at a meeting with Russian parents, Interfax news agency reported.

Astakhov’s statement followed his complaint about an upcoming meeting with his European counterparts in Brussels next week.

The ombudsman said his European colleagues have branded him an “ideological opponent and enemy” because of his uncompromising drive to prevent children from learning about sex.

But he would still cooperate with fellow ombudsmen, said Astakhov, a former celebrity lawyer known for advocating a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

Astakhov gave his own recipe for teaching teenagers about sex last year, when he said Russian literature offered a goldmine of information on the subject.

“Children need to read more, it has everything on love and relationship of the sexes,” Astakhov told Rossia-24 television.

The staples of the literary curriculum in Russian schools, such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, are notably short on advice on contraception or how to deal with budding homosexuality or other non-heterosexual orientations.

A good thing, according to Astakhov, who said “school should raise children to be chaste and understand family values.”

“Russian Children Need More Tolstoy — Not Sex Ed, Official Says,” The Moscow Times, December 1, 2014

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Offers like this from “Lora,” “Eva” and other brothels and prostitution rings are pasted everywhere in the city, including on this billboard for a Christmastime theatrical production for children.

[…]

While Russia may be more notorious for its homegrown cheap sex labor, these days inbound sexual traffic in fact far exceeds the exports, thanks to Russia’s previously stable economy, which ensures a steady demand for prostitutes, experts said.

The country is now at once a destination, origin and transit country for sex slaves — part of a 1-million-strong slave force that exists in Russia, according to a recent report released ahead of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on Dec. 2.

But the government and the legislature both ignore the problem for fear that it would damage Russia’s reputation, even though sex trafficking exists everywhere, said activist Boris Panteleyev.

“Admitting the existence of slavery, in the eyes of officials, would harm our prestige,” said Panteleyev, head of the Man & Law NGO and a former prosecutor who has been combatting human trafficking since the 1990s.

As a result, sex slaves in Russia struggle even if freed, and have to rely on NGOs, clerics or police generosity in the absence of state rehab and protection programs.

“Russian criminal legislation is insufficient, and existing laws say nothing about help for victims,” said Yelena Timofeyeva of the SafeHouse charity.

[…]

Russia ranked as the country with the sixth-biggest slave population in the world — 1 million people — in a fresh annual report by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation released last week.

The report put the total number of slaves among 167 countries of the world at 35 million. India was the runaway leader with 14 million slaves, while Mauritania had the highest percentage of slave population (4 percent).

[…]

—Alexey Eremenko, “Sex Slavery Thrives in Russia Out of Public View,” The Moscow Times, December 1, 2014

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