Assault, Extortion, Police: Kazakhstani Transgender Sex Workers Reach Out


People from the sex service industry are considered one of the most vulnerable segments of society. 90% of them are systematically beaten, sexually assaulted, and blackmailed. One's gender identity makes the situation all the more difficult. Things get even worse when the police get involved. 

Sex work is indeed illegal in Kazakhstan, though the criminal article is only for procurers. Sex workers must be handled according to the law regardless. Our interlocutors, however, claim that police see sex workers exclusively as a way of personal enrichment. 

No Address

Nita (name changed) has shared her story with us. She is 34 years old and has been providing sex services for eight years. She started working after her transition. Having undergone surgery, Nita received all the documents confirming her gender. Without them, life had been complicated: it was very difficult to rent an apartment and travel abroad. Despite having the documents, Nita was unable to find employment.

She says that 90% of Kazakhstani transgender people face this problem, thus forcing them to work as sex workers.

Last year, Nita tried to open a cosmetic boutique shop, having invested all her savings in the small business. For five months, there were no issues. Her transgender friends coming to visit eventually resulted in her being asked to leave. The landlords claimed that repairs needed to be made. Information quickly spread in the general chat of landlords that she was transgender, thus hindering her other attempts to generate income. Premises were no longer rented out to her despite her ordinary appearance. 

Write Down My Number

According to Nita, the police regularly harass her colleagues.

If earlier, for the most part, we were attacked by some gangsters and street criminals engaged in robbery, now it is the police themselves.

How long has it been since the police started doing this and what happens?

We have always conflicted with the police, but now such cases have become more frequent. They are looking for loopholes to impose fines. Because all they can do within the framework of the law is to bring us in for disturbing public order. Girls (sex workers - Ed.) usually prefer to keep a low profile, so it is unrealistic to bring them to administrative responsibility under this article. The police are looking for other ways to raise figures and enrich themselves simultaneously. 

According to Nita, the police find the girls' contacts on an intimate services website. After that, unknown persons, under the guise of clients, call from various numbers. When the time and place are set, a person comes and pays. There is then a knock on the door, and the client goes to answer it. Police officers in civilian clothing are waiting to catch the sex workers "red-handed."

The police themselves also seek these services and receive them. Afterward, they demand money.
Usually, the police put us on a counter (phrase that roughly translates as to force someone to be indebted - Ed.). There was a similar incident about five years ago. Back then, transgender sex workers paid $100 each week to a group of gangsters. They extorted money decisively: they could suddenly physically assault them, and by the evening they demanded 300 thousand tenge. Their leader's name was Nazar, a former police officer. For four years, he terrorized girls and collected money from them,  Nita recalls.

Nita's personal connections facilitated the criminals' arrest. There had been period when there was a relative lull for sex workers: from 2016 to 2018. After that, the pressure resumed. 

There is another money extortion scheme, police officers send people to the girls who rob and beat them. After that, the police themselves come. They say, 'If you want a roof (saying that refers to protection - Ed.), write down my number. You will pay a certain amount, and no one will touch you. We will promptly respond to your call.' We have no choice but to obey. There is no one to ask for help, as the police themselves threaten us. Thus, girls actually live without money: most of it is used for rent, the other is in the hands of extortionists. There are no funds left for life and the opportunity to get out of debt.

How do other police officers react when statements are written against their colleagues? 

They don't set them in motion. The first time I filed a statement against that criminal group, it was not accepted, despite the fact that they brutally beat a person. Then I threatened that I would go to KTK (media outlet - Ed.) with the story and that I had friends there. Only after that, they accepted the statement. We got the matter sorted out, but we had to remind the police that we would contact the prosecutor's office if the case was hushed up. I was threatened. Relatives of the police called and insisted that my friend take the statement back. In the end, some of the criminals paid their way out, and one of them was given time.

Another form of extortion is blackmail. Sometimes police break into sex workers' apartments. They undress them, force them to say the name indicated in their passport on the camera, and confess to providing sex service. If the victim does not hand over the money, the video is published on the Internet.

After such incidents, the girls (as Nita calls them) unite. To do this, she co-founded a group for transgender sex workers to somehow combat violence and extortion. There they share a database of unwanted customers and their stories.


The most recent victim of such police harassment was Azhar (name changed):

Two policemen came to my apartment and introduced themselves. I didn't commit their names to memory, but they knew exactly who they were visiting. They knew I was a sex worker. After that, they took me to the police station and asked me to write a statement that I admit that I provide intimate services. I was registered, then released. Later that day, I was visited again. Three policemen and the owner of the apartment that I rented for daily work arrived. They started to exert pressure on me: pay 560 thousand tenge! I said I didn't have that kind of money. To which they replied that I would earn it somehow through sex. As a result, I offered to pay them 200 thousand tenge, and we parted.

To extort the full amount from Azhar, the policemen confiscated her documents: her birth certificate, the results of medical tests from the past few months, etc. The owner of the apartment rented day-to-day also demanded money. 

The landlord forced me to write a statement that I rented his apartment, and that he did not know that I was working. I refused to do it. In response, he started filming me on video and asked me to say that I owed him 180,000 tenge by March 29 (the amount of the fine that he allegedly paid), explains Azhar

On what basis can a fine be imposed if a sex worker has merely been in such an apartment?

Azhar does not intend to go down without a fight, as paying another fine means putting money in "Johny Law's" pocket. She plans to use the law in her favor, i.e. turn to the police, hoping that they will not help their colleagues violating rights.

This is only a superficial solution, however. The police target all sex workers indiscriminately. One solution is transgender people being able to receive employment like everyone else. Legalizing what they are engaged in is another potential solution. This way they would pay taxes, earn income, and be safe.

Original Author: Aksinya Titova

DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece. The text has been modified, the content is the same. Please refer to the original article in Russian for accuracy.

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