Who else do sex workers pay millions to?

It’s not only ponces and gangsters that tap a single sex worker for up to ten million each year, but the solid protectors of order as well - police officers - who, since a new regulation came into force three years ago, may impose fines of up to HUF 300.000 on sex workers, several times a day. The map of violence created by the Advocacy Association of Sex Workers raises awareness to the regulatory gaps, abuse and discrimination that cause a lot of undeserved suffering in all spheres of life to the boys and girls in the trade, most of whom did not choose this vocation as the most attractive one out of a huge array of excellent options, to begin with.

It has been several years since the laws and practices that regulate sexual services have created an absurd situation for people who choose the vocation of providing sexual services to others  - which is legal in Hungary. Sex work is legal, and those who practice it must apply for a business licence; but this is the only business that may only be conducted in one’s own property, and not in a rental. However, if one has a child that’s a minor, it cannot be conducted where the minor lives, only in another property, which must also be owned by the sex worker. This situation is entirely out of touch with reality - most girls would never even think of engaging in this trade if they owned one or more properties. The other option would be the street, where one may theoretically, if not work, but at least meet with clients - but despite the legislation, most municipalities in Hungary still haven’t designated the so-called “tolerance zones” in their territories. This constitutes an infringement by omission - something that a municipality could be dissolved for in Austria, for example, but in Hungary, only the papers matter, and we are willing to turn a blind eye on a huge array of unlawful practices.

But only in cases where the infringement is committed by high-status individuals or the institutions themselves, of course. In the case of sex workers, the situation is the other way around. As it’s not made clear where one can and cannot stand, police officers often justify the fines they impose by the awkward vicinity of properties such as an old train station, which hadn’t been in use for years, had its windows boarded up, and no one ever went near it. And if there aren’t even any similar objects around that could make the location appear as problematic, a pretext can always be made up. One sex worker was standing next to construction debris, and was fined for littering. Another one was standing on the lawn next to a road, and a policeman instructed her to go to him, but when she stepped on the road, she was fined because “it’s prohibited to step on the concrete”.

The offense fine cheques come one after the other, and then the worker is put in jail - although she is the practitioner of a legal occupation, and not a drug dealer or a human trafficker! The cheques of the previous “offenses” keep coming even while she is in prison, but she doesn’t even have a chance to work and pay the penalties that were imposed on her on a questionable basis.

Before 2012, similar cases were assessed by the court, but now the decisions are up to the policemen. What motivates them to fine as many sex workers as possible? No one really knows, one can only guess - the criteria used for assessing the performance of police officers is not known. It’s impossible to know exactly to what extent they are expected to harrass sex workers, or what the necessary limits of fines imposed are in order for them to receive bonuses or promotions. However, what is sure is that a part of the fines lands in the pockets of the police. This way sex workers, who are practitioners of one of the most despised occupations and who face violence and discrimination in many aspects of their lives, beside ponces and gangsters, end up supporting the police as well.

The association would like the legal framework to become clear and consistent. They would like to see a decision whether the authorities want to limit the activities of legal entrepreneurs to more confined areas (actual, existing tolerance zones), or if their aim is rather to have them working everywhere, in more even proportions; whether their aim is not to have sex workers standing around on the streets (which should be achieved through the legalisation of renting places for work), or if they want them to work on the streets. However, without decisions and consistent practice, their situation is becoming increasingly unfair.

Of course, sex workers are not too popular, and many people believe that whatever injustice they face, the deserve. However, just like with other groups, there’s no point in demonising the members of this group either. They are not criminals: they are taxpayers, mothers raising their children, daughters and sons supporting their parents - just as deserving of a humane existence and fundamental human rights as anyone else. But they, unlike the practitioners of many other occupations, have to face the difficulties related to their work not only during their working hours, but also when they see a doctor, when they visit family, when they are looking for an appartment to rent, and when they simply just walk down the street. So we shouldn’t deceive ourselves thinking that only the ponces, the clients, and the sex workers themselves are to blame for all their suffering - no matter how much we would like to avoid the fact, this is a social matter just like any other, and we all share the responsibility for it.

If people learn about the stories in the map of violence, and watch the related videos, they may better understand the situation of those who sell their bodies.