At the national level

MONA Conference addresses prostitution and trafficking from an international and Hungarian perspective, 23 September 2011

On 23 September 2011 in Budapest, MONA – Foundation for the Women of Hungary organized a full day conference on Prostitution and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. International and Hungarian experiences, challenges and opportunities for action.

With this conference, MONA Foundation for the Women of Hungary, member of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby, wanted to raise awareness on the growing scale of sexual exploitation and trafficking to this end of primarily women and girls occurring within Hungary, while many Hungarian women and girls are trafficked out of Hungary, mainly to other countries in Europe such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Aimed primarily at Hungarian decision-makers and professionals working with the issue and with victims/vulnerable persons, the conference sought to increase and improve efforts in Hungary in terms of combating the phenomena and assisting victims.

The first part of the conference was about international perspectives and experiences.

In her opening speech, H. E. Karin Olofsdotter, Swedish Ambassador to Hungary, recalled that “Prostitution is a social problem but also an issue of inequality between genders. Women will not experience true dignity as long as their human rights are not respected.”

Ms Jenny Westerstrand, from Uppsala University, was invited to present the Swedish experience, where the purchase of sexual services has been criminalized as prostitution has been acknowledged as a form of violence against women. “The existence of a sex market, supplying women and girls (and men) on men’s demand, cannot be tolerated but must be challenged. It affects us all.”

Mr Jeffrey Hay, Human Rights Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, presented the three P’s approach: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and gave examples of actions and measures on the part of the United States.

Ms Andrea Matolcsi, from MONA – Foundation for the Women of Hungary, presented the results of research carried out by a Dutch social worker among 84 Hungarian prostitutes in Amsterdam’s red light district. “This research shows that the idea that legalized brothels help ensure that women are in prostitution voluntarily and autonomously and free from exploitation and abuse certainly is not true for the majority of this sample. 89% are not happy to be in prostitution. 81% would like to go back to Hungary within one year, and 82% want to be doing something else to earn money besides prostitution within a year. Moreover, there are currently no (re)integration programmes for women returning back to Hungary.”

Ms Pierrette Pape, Policy Officer and Project Coordinator of the European Women’s Lobby, presented the EWL campaign ‘Together for a Europe free from prostitution’ (click here to see her PPT). The new EWL campaign clip, ‘For a change of perspective’, was also screened in Hungarian. When mentioning EWL recommendations towards the abolition of the system of prostitution, Pierrette Pape recalled that “Exit programmes and other assistance services to women in prostitution exist but they are managed by NGOs and therefore depend on funding! So when the governments decide to stop funding NGOs, they also decide to refuse alternatives for women in prostitution.”

The second session was dedicated to Hungarian experiences and the role of the state.

Ms Anna Betlen, from MONA Foundation, made a presentation about prostitution and trafficking from an economics perspective. “The sex is already free of charge; what clients are paying for is the violence that was and continues to be invested into the prostitute by the prostitutors – be it physical, sexual psychological or economical – to make sure that she/he submits and is available for clients. The client doesn’t have to use violence to ensure that the prostitute submits, this has already been done for him.” Betlen noted, furthermore, that “the globalised prostitutional system doesn’t just mean that women from poorer regions are being moved to richer ones, that benefits are being taken from disadvantaged social groups for the benefit of better-off ones, that there is a shift from the legal economy towards the illegal one, but it should be kept in mind that also the profit is moved. In other words, prostitution and human trafficking aren’t just a result of inequalities, but also their creator and maintainer.”

Representatives of the Hungarian government were invited to present their work and Hungarian initiatives to combat trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution. Dr. Krisztina Berta Simonné, Deputy State Secretary for EU and International Affairs at the Ministry of Interior and National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, presented opportunities and challenges in the area of combating trafficking as experienced by the National Coordinator. She emphasised her desire to better involve and work more closely with NGOs in the field of anti-trafficking, for which purpose she has already begun consultations with key Hungarian NGOs. Pol. Captain Dr. Richárd Németh, Head of the Trafficking in Human Beings Department within the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) Organized Crime Division , presented the experience of the NBI Anti-Trafficking Department in the field of prostitution and trafficking, including typical victim and perpetrator profiles and recent cases.

Dr. Viktoria Tanczos from the Equal Opportunities Department at the Ministry of National Resources, State Department of Social, Family and Youth Affairs, informed participants about the shelter for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, which officially began operation as the trafficking shelter in January of 2011, although it began accepting victims in June of 2010. The shelter has three rooms. Commenting on this presentation, Anna Betlen said that “The current situation should be a first step towards a real strategy about shelters, accompanied with funding and resources. The sustainability of the shelter should not be dependent on government’s good will. The process of selecting the operator of the shelter should also be transparent, with a public call for applications (this was not the case with the last three shelters).”

During the panel discussion with Members of Parliament and European Parliament, MEP Zita Gurmai, in a video message to the conference, said that “Every seventh man purchases sexual services from women or children in Hungary. Abolishing the demand is the only way to put an end to prostitution.”

More than 100 people attended the conference. Hopefully, this event allowed decision-makers and professionals to get a broader view of the phenomenon of prostitution and trafficking, as well as concrete proposals for action and examples of policy initiatives in other countries.

The conference was concluded by a press conference, where several journalists could interview the speakers. Several articles were published in the Hungarian media. This article is mainly about the Dutch research, and this article is a good summary of the whole conference (also covered by other media, here, here and here).

Materials from the conference will be available on MONA website in the near future. You can also see photos of the event here.

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