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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