In Macedonia, as throughout the world, sex workers are pushed to the margins of society by a combination of prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Sex workers inhabit a particularly vulnerable position in Macedonian society, facing harassment and violence not only from their clients and pimps, but also from law enforcement officials and other authorities. These abuses include physical violence, illegal detention, compulsory testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and rape, which are compounded by substandard enforcement of law and lack of access to health and support services. Adding to these challenges are the risks of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, drug addiction, a hostile public attitude, and mass-media harassment. Because of the tremendous negative stigma connected to prostitution in Macedonia, many sex workers are living double lives, concealing the fact that they are sex workers from their families and the communities in which they live. A disproportionate number of street-based sex workers, those most vulnerable, are members of the Roma community, Macedonia's most harshly discriminated against ethnic minority group. Gay and transgender sex workers are often targeted and further marginalized because of their sexual or gender orientation.
My work on this project was done in close collaboration with Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS). Founded in 1997, HOPS launched an outreach program for support of street-based sex workers in Skopje in 2000, which later spread to include sex workers in the Roma community and is now working with sex workers in four regions nationally. HOPS provides support services (health, social, legal, drop-in, child support), advocacy and lobbying. HOPS works to promote the rights of sex workers with the basic premise that the selling of sexual services does not justify denial of fundamental rights, to which all human beings are entitled.
For more information about HOPS visit www.hops.org.mk