“We receive despearate calls from sex workers daily in our office. We can help those few who have the skills, resources and an entrepreneurial licence to continue being self-employed and at least earn some money online, but this is a very small minority. Roma street-based sex workers, single mothers and trans workers have no support and face evictions and homelessness, a situation only state support could help with.”
Agnes Földi, chairwoman of SZEXE, sex worker led organisation from Hungary
The sex worker community
Hungary has a population of around 9 million people; the sex worker community is estimated around 8-10.000 workers. 90 % of the group is cis women, many of them raising children (alone) according to community surveys. Hungarian sex workers work abroad in large numbers as well in Western-European countries, often due to limited economic options and constant fining and harassment by the police in their home country. Roma street-based sex workers are especially hardly hit by policing and fining: it is estimated that thousands of Roma women left the country for temporary or seasonal work in the past couple of years to work in foreign sex industries, often without speaking the language of the country, thus vulnerable to exploitation.
In Hungary, selling sex was legalised in 1999. According to the law, so called “tolerance zones” needed to be identfied in each municipality with more than 50,000 inhabitants or in cases where sex work seemed to be widespread. The law diferentated between so-called “protected” zones and “tolerance” zones. Engaging in sex work outside of tolerance zones was prohibited.
In practice, Hungarian authorites have been reluctant to identfy such zones, so a signifcant proportion of street sex work continues to take place illegally. As the law’s purpose was to primarily regulate street sex work, indoors sex work was left largely untouched. Sex workers – street-based and indoors alike – need to possess entrepreneurial permits and regularly pay taxes as per court orders and attend obligatory health checks every three months to get a health certificate. Any person who violates these restrictons on sexual services commits an administrative offence and shall be punished by confinement or fine.
Impact of COVID19 on the community
Sex workers report complete or nearly complete loss of income. The number of active advertisers on the main advertising site dropped by 25 % in the first week of the national emergency.
Most of indoors sex workers rent two apartments: one in which they live and one if which they work, as it is illegal to work in a flat where their children reside. The dramatic decrease in the number of clients threatens their already precarious living situation.
The government introduced tax exemption for many small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, e.g. taxi drivers, beauticians, as well as artists and providers of health, sports, and some welfare services. However, sex workers did not fall under the exemption.
Actions on the ground
The local advocacy group, SZEXE is collecting emergency donations:
Szexmunkasok Erdevedelmi Egyesulete
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