The Association of Hungarian Sex Workers (SZEXE) used it’s 15th anniversary celebration as an opportunity to bring public attention to the dire situation of sex workers in Hungary. On September 17, 2015 sex workers marched together with red umbrellas and covered faces through the streets of Budapest, bravely speaking out against all attempts that aim to exclude, exploit, and stigmatise sex workers in the county.
While the group’s hard work and resilience are reasons to celebrate, in a video they created for the occasion, members and stakeholders highlight that progress is difficult to come by. Very few sex work tolerance zones have been delineated officially, sex workers continue to face violence, stigma, and discrimination, and they feel unable to “come out” as sex workers to even their close family and friends. They lack access to medical services, and they are routinely fined and punished by law enforcement. Dr. Klaudia Makó, a lawyer representing SZEXE, says “I was surprised to see that there are people in the police and judiciary who still think sex work is illegal.” Ágnes Földi, chairwomen of the group, hopes that media coverage of sex worker issues will continue, hopefully using language that is more sex worker inclusive.
Stesa Plecas, executive director of the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN), based in Budapest and representing sex workers in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, asserts that discrimination against sex workers is “Not only a local problem, it’s a regional problem. Sex workers are not acknowledged as workers and don’t have the basic human rights. They are a marginalised and vulnerable community that experiences a lot of violence and human rights abuses. And this is true for not only the whole region, but also globally.”
Watch clips of the march and hear sex workers talk about their experiences in SZEXE’s video.