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The activists also wish to keep sex workers – whom they estimate to number 7,500 across Kyrgyzstan including 2,000 in Bishkek – out of the reach of Kyrgyzstan’s notoriously venal police as much as possible, concerned the police are more interested in lining their pockets than in matters of public health.
Since the vice squads started hitting the streets in November, sex workers complain that though they are not breaking the law, they are often rounded up and taken to police stations.
Yet human rights activists and public health workers say the stepped-up police efforts against sex workers and are making it harder to track sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and ensure the girls’ safety.
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Police officers enter a cafeteria in Bishkek for a breakfast break in August 2013. They are the mamochki – elsewhere known as “madams,” female pimps.
Kyrgyzstan’s sex workers accuse the police of shakedowns although prostitution has been legal since 1998. The girls are hidden away, often in taxis parked next to the road.
Only a few older women are to be found in Bishkek’s notorious red-light district.