Hungary: Sex worker organisation SZEXE celebrates 17th birthday with publication of survey results and national recommendations
SZEXE, the Hungarian sex work organisation carried out a community survey in 2017 among sex workers both working outdoors and indoors. The results shed light on where and under what conditions people sell sex in Hungary and what social and legal changes they desire.
According to estimates of the sex worker advocacy organisation, there are currently around 10.000 sex workers in Hungary. The survey results show that over half of them have children while more than 10 per cent are male sex workers. Only one tenth is working on the street, the rest in indoor venues. More than 60 per cent of respondents have worked more than 3 years in sex work. 8.5 per cent stated that they have suffered abuse in the 12 months prior to the survey, and only one quarter reported the incident to the police.
Half of the respondents would like to work alone indoors, while a quarter together with other sex workers. One third would prefer working in a managed venue, such as massage parlour, brothel or night club. More than 80 per cent of the total sample agrees that renting a venue for sex work should be decriminalised and sex workers should be able to work without compulsory registration.
Sex workers’ problems vary according to their social background, family situation and working conditions just to name a few factors, so SZEXE presented a comprehensive recommendation package on the occasion of its 17th birthday on 14 September 2017. Besides the full decriminalisation of sex work and long-term social measures, the immediate legal demands connected to sex work are the following:
1. Zoning laws should be abolished
In its current form, protected zones, where sex workers cannot solicit, only serve the purpose of making sex workers face harassment and fines. Similarly, tolerance zones have not been designated since 1999, when the law was enacted and required municipalities to allocate zones for soliciting. Thus SZEXE urges the government to repeal these articles from the relevant law as these provide basis for punishing those sex workers who are often the most in need of protection. Instead, sex workers receive huge fines and face arbitrary detention, even when they offer their services in legal venues. Detention is common amongst women who raise their children alone, even though the misdemeanour law prohibits this practice.
One frequently used argument in favour of maintaining tolerance zones is to prevent sex workers from soliciting in front of churches or next to schools. Sex workers are not imbecile to stand next to these venues. Even in the current repressive climate, they know and follow the rules; in a better legal framework they won’t expose themselves to hatred and intolerance from society, including parents - many of the sex workers have children themselves.
The attitude of police and the judiciary is illustrated by the fact that in 2015 101, while in 2016 86 minors were charged with misdemeanour offences in relation to prostitution. International conventions, the domestic child protection law and even prostitution articles clearly state that minors are never offenders but victims of sexual exploitation.
According to SZEXE and other anti-trafficking organisations, there are hardly any trafficking cases investigated, instead sex workers are accused of procuring or pandering. This is made possible by the prohibition of providing premises for sex work.
2. Sex workers should be able to rent venues for sex work
Hungary is signatory to the New York Convention (Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others), which is more than 60 years old. The Convention requires State parties to punish any person who rents accommodations for prostitution purposes (Article 2), which is transposed into Hungarian law as well. Unfortunately this article is absolutely unrealistic: those who work independently in indoor venues and don’t own an apartment become outlaws. These sex workers are the majority of the community in Hungary. If the owner of the apartment gets to know that there is sex work going on in the premises, they will need to cancel the rental contract, otherwise they commit a crime. The consequence for sex workers is that they can loose the deposit and get homeless from one day to another. The knowledge of someone’s sex work involvement also frequently results in blackmailing and extortion.
SZEXE therefore suggests the possibility to legally rent apartments for the purpose of sex work. This is in contradiction with the New York Convention, which the government should withdraw from.