Subject: New Hiv risk in Hungary Police Harassment of Sex Workers creates greater HIV risk in Southern Hungary The majority of sex workers in Southern Hungary are young women and girl-children working in roadside prostitution. These sex workers work in roadside areas and their clients are a mix of local men, truck drivers, and foreign tourists. Prostitution was decriminalised in Hungary in the early 1990's, although solicitation and other peripheral activities have remained crimes. The police have often used various misdemeanours to fine sex workers without them appearing in court or having legal representation. In this way some sex workers have built up large fines, which if are left unpaid can result in imprisonment. However this problem has not had substantial repercussions until recently. Since the 1993, the overwhelming majority of sex workers have only offered sex with a condom and have declined to sell unsafe sex. However in Csongrad County the local police having begun using road traffic law to fine sex workers huge amounts for alleged infractions such as jay-walking . Recent fines have been as high a year's wages for a teacher, or the equivalent of 250 to 300 sex acts, so three of four "convictions" can take up the total income of a local sex worker for the whole year. Arrests appear to be arbitrary, and "sweeps" can take place as often as once or twice a week, each arrest can attract the maximum fine. The normal penalty for jay-walking for a non-sex worker is a warning or a fine of approx. $5.00, not the $1 000.00 to $3 000.00 that some women are being fined. These huge fines require the young women to work harder and longer to avoid imprisonment for the non- payment of fines. This fear of imprisonment has resulted in a sudden and dangerous precedent in the last two months. It has now become possible to buy sex without a condom for a premium payment of an extra $15.00 for oral or regular sex, making a total of $25.00 for an unsafe sex act. Safe sex only costs $10.00 per act. The harassment has also promoted migration for prostitution, as women seek to escape the harassment. Women are also exposed to other risks as they are less willing to turn away suspicious clients because of their financial distress, and in the last ten days one local woman has disappeared in very worrying circumstances. In the report "Selling sex in Southern Hungary" compiled in Spring 1997, by Ms. Katherine Babiuk of Sheridan College, Ontario, only one sex workers from 42 women interviewed in Csongrad was willing to offer unsafe sex. Last week the sexual health outreach team in Csongrad found eleven women from twenty-four were willing to offer unsafe sex. All the women interviewed cited their huge fines and fear of prison as the reason that they were willing to offer unsafe sex for a premium payment. We therefore believe that the present police policy is creating an unacceptable level of risk for local sex workers and is also creating an unnecessary public health risk. Furthermore in creating this risk, thousands of Forints are being spent in implementing a policy that has not reduced prostitution but has only served to consume public resources and finances when many other local services such as hospitals and schools, have suffered serious cutbacks. We would like interested people to petition with us to have this reckless policy stopped and to ask the local authorities to work towards a policy that will complement safer sexual practices and involve greater consideration of what role the police might have, to hopefully work with sex workers to reduce crime against sex workers and to reduce any perceived public nuisance, by consensus. Yours sincerely
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