By Agnes Martony – 22 July 2021 on CESE Global Summit

Hello, good morning, good afternoon. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today on this important topic.

My name is Agnes Martony, I am director of the British company The Centre for the Study of New Security Challenges Ltd. 

My area of research is of human trafficking and the related issues, and I am working as an expert and an advisor of this field. As I am a native Hungarian, I am working in Hungary to help those people who are working against human trafficking, who want to prevent human trafficking or help survivors. I also help in policymaking as well. I do not think prostitution, selling your body for money could ever be a legal trade or profession. It should not exist, and this is the aim I work for.

The aim of my presentation is to show that awareness raising, and advocacy can help to change a country’s policy on trafficking. It can lead to policy change as well as ultimately can change the legislation about prostitution.

As it is well known the Nordic model what was invented in 1999 in Sweden has three pillars. One is that the woman or the person who is prostituted, cannot be criminalised, cannot be punished by the law. But the demand, the person who is buying into sex is punishable by the law. The third pillar of this model is that there are widespread services to help those who want to exit the sex trade and helping them to exit and to repair their life and rehabilitate them for independent life and fulfilling their dreams. 

The title of my presentation is:  The Budapest Model. This is not an accident. I would like to show how the legislation changed for the better in 2020 in Hungary as a result of our civil society’s hard-working efforts and our commitment to make understand the lawmakers and politicians that those who are prostituted, those who work in the sex industry are not necessarily criminals, they are in this situation not necessarily by their own will.

Also, I would like to show that your local knowledge, knowledge of your language, your culture, your customs and situation is very important as you have to adapt international legislations, customs, best practices to your situation and nobody else then you who are local can properly influence policymaking and highlight the problems and so make changes.

The aim of my presentation is to show how conflicting ideas, legislations and views were at the end – I would say- put into harmony.

Very first of all I would like to say that Hungary is a small country in Europe inside the European Union. Hungary has 10 million people. 

But Hungary is a very old country. Hungary was founded constitutionally in the Middle Ages. Since year 1000 Hungary is an existing country and the first modern criminal code is entered into power in 1878. That was a beautifully collected work of criminal practices, harmonised and was in use for over 100 years. Basically, the present national criminal legislation is based on the principles of the original criminal code. I think it’s important to highlight these because it was always a crime in Hungary to sell your body for money, pimping or soliciting prostitution. That way the general public view is and always was that prostitution is an unwanted activity, not a ‘work’ and that view is shared between the public, the law enforcement and the law makers.

Hungary’s problem occurred when the country entered into the European Union in 2004 where the underlying legislation or basic line is that selling your body is your choice, it could be a profession, a legitimate trade, a work for living and not a crime.

To comply with the European Union’s entry requirements all Hungarian national legislation had to be harmonised with the European Union’s principles, that way selling your body for money was no longer a crime in Hungary.

The Palermo protocol was also incorporated into the criminal code of Hungary as an international obligation which brought in the term of human trafficking. 

The lawmakers and the law enforcement personal didn’t like the idea of “sex work” as legal trade, they didn’t want to change the national view that prostitution is an unwanted activity so they said, OK selling your body in the European Union is a kind of trade but we can regulate it by our standard.

This way the legislation is: that are designated zones where prostitution can be done legally. The location, the exact boundaries of the designated zone is a local issue. It is the village or small town or city council which has a power to say which streets or district, or boroughs are okay to have prostitution on site. But as you can expect not very many towns has a zone like this. As councillors are elected people, they give their name to adopt such a resolution. Obviously, no one wants a zone like this on his or her doorstep, all councillors want to be re-elected so legally doing prostitution in Hungary, it is very difficult because practically no designated zone exist in the country. 

The other part of the legislation is that all the those who are doing illegal prostitution, selling their body outside a designated zone can be subject of police intervention. That means they can be fined by a magistrate for a pecuniary fine. If somebody paid the fine, there was no more problem, but there was always in the rulings a number of days of detentions as an equivalent of the fine in case somebody would not pay.

And the detention, the imprisonment was always a concern for the US State Department TIP report.

The Trafficking in Persons report always stated that Hungary is not properly exercising police power and criminally charging and detaining people who were in prostitution.

For years and years this was a kind of standoff between the Hungarian law makers, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior and the American State Department. 

The other negative view and comments in the yearly TIP report was about child prostitution in Hungary: that Hungary is not doing enough against child prostitution.

And anybody, a simple citizen or an NGO, ever wrote a letter to any kind of Hungarian authority,  like the Minister of Interior who is in charge of  the police, or to the Minister of Justice who is in charge of law making and supporting the courts and the prosecution,  or a letter to the parliamentary select committee members or to the Ombudsman that ‘why the Hungarian State is not doing enough to eradicate child prostitution?’ – the answer always was: “There is no such thing as child prostitution in Hungary, nothing to do.”

I have to say, I was kept wondering why we have this categorically negative answers from people who do not like the existence of prostitution. 

I have to say the problem was a linguistic problem.

For an American audience it is clear that anybody under the age of 18 is a child and a child can’t take part of commercial prostitution, that is human trafficking.

If you did law in Hungary, especially criminal law, you learned that there are minors and adults. Juveniles are below age 18. And there is a special category as ‘child’ for those who are less than 14. The law sometimes gives extra special protection for a person who is under the age of 14, who is a child, like the legal assumption is that a “child can’t consent”.

I came to the understanding that if we would refine the translation between the Hungarian and English texts and communication, we can present the case differently to lawmakers and we can probably solve the standoff between the Hungarian state and the US State Department. Ultimately, we can find a solution for the main problem of:

–           existence /non-existence of child prostitution. 

A National Round Table against Human Trafficking exists in Hungary for NGOs and governmental representatives. This forum has regular meetings to exchange ideas and concept. I had the honour to represent my NGO on this forum. In August 2019 I wrote to this body that: ‘please, next time when the Hungarian Minister for Interior – who is in charge of the police – has to negotiate with the US State Department he should clarify the following:

– 1st: Hungary is obliged by the European Union to acknowledge sex work as a free trade 

-2nd: it is a priority for Hungary that no minors/juveniles under 18 could enter into any kind of prostitution 

– 3rd: in Hungarian criminal law ‘child’ is a special category” 

The second part of my suggestion was that the Hungarian national legislation should be formulated differently. This way instead of the simple world of “child”

we should apply “a person under the age of 18 years”.

This way it would be no more confusion about who is in prostitution. Everybody would understand that the US focus was on minors below 18 and not on the special Hungarian legal category of under 14 years old.

I have to add here, that EU’s regulation about prostitution as free trade applies for adults. Adult age in many EU counties is from age 16 and above. That adult age in Hungary is age 18 and above. So, while legal prostitution could not be done buy a 17 years old in Hungary same time that could be done legally in Switzerland, where the legal age limit is from 16 upwards for legal prostitution.

I add this just as an illustration that while the US State Department was holding Hungary to an account for “child prostitution” and consequently not doing enough against human trafficking the EU’s legislation was not against prostitution/sex work done by people between age 16 and 18.

Seeing this conflicting situation as a policy advisor I have organised three big international conferences with the Ministry of Justice of Hungary and with my NGO of that time. 

The first one in 2017 was about how to combating human trafficking happens in the United States as in Hungary. We had professional speakers like ex FBI agents, ex US

customs agents, a practising federal judge who was ruling in the Jane Doe case.

We had Hungarian counterparts from the Ministry of Justice, from the anti-trafficking unit of the Hungarian Police, The National Crime Prevention Officer, a Hungarian judge and an expert in charge of an Examination Centre for abuse victims. 

As audience we had police personal, social workers, front line service providers and religious people. The outcome of the conference was that the mainly the legislation is in place but the implementation is not adequate. Most prominently the judiciary should give more credit to the victims and should understand better how a human trafficking situation is evolving.

In 2018 the international conference was about the harmful aspects of the internet, and the image-based violence especially focusing on the role of pornography. To see that certain kind of abuse doesn’t happen just by itself but there is a strong connection between the images and what are on the internet – it was all very eye opening for those who work in the judiciary, in child protection and the related field.

The other outcome of the 2017 conference was that the Ministry of Justice ordered an immediate overview of the asset recovery legislation and instructed that in any suspected human trafficking case the criminals’ assets should be sized at the beginning of the investigation and victim compensation should be a priority.

Three national centres for helping victims of crime especially focusing on trafficking or domestically abused or sexually abused victims were set up during 2018. A new website was set up and promoted on social media sites. The National Helpline for victims of crime was highly advertised for the public and all this was awarded to run by my NGO.

Despite all this effort in 2019 the US State Department’s TIP report still threatened to downgrade Hungary to tier 3 status. During my research I kept talking to American law enforcement agents and other legal practitioners, it came alight that apart from linguistical problems like “child” there was an other problem. It was a codification problem. New international obligations like Palermo protocol were simply added to the criminal code and the old fashion articles of prohibition of prostitution was taken out, but pimping, and promoting prostitution as a crime was left in the code and all this made a major inconsistency within the law and made a major problem for law enforcement.

In 2019 with the Ministry of Justice I have organised another international conference about the reality of legalised prostitution in Europe. Beside the representatives of the Hungarian prosecution, the police and law makers we had a Dutch abolitionist and an ex-FBI agent as expert. It was widely discussed the negative effects of the legal sex trade. Everybody understood the importance to keep under aged people out of this trade. Beside this the different international aspects pointed to the confusion of the Hungarian Criminal Code.

By the time the 2020 US State Department TIP report was published Hungary made the following changes to its national legislation:

–           The Criminal Code was severely revised. Confusion between old style category of “pimping” and Palermo Protocol based Human trafficking was neutralised. A strong guidance was issued for the law enforcement and for the judiciary issued how to investigate and what facts to put into dominant position during a criminal process.

–           The law was changed: it is now prohibited for people under the age of 18 to take part in sex work (remember it could be done legally in a designated zone).

–           The person who is under age of 18 and caught in a kind of prostitution is regarded as a victim and not a criminal/offender. Upon detecting the under-age status, the police must call immediately for the social services which take the under-aged for a safe house for care and rehabilitation. That person has the status of a witness in a criminal case.

–           The buyer is criminally liable for a crime for seeking sexual services from an underage person.

So that’s why I’m saying this is The Budapest Model because at the same time you respect the European Union underlying principle that “sex work is a legal trade, a permitted activity”. But you respect your national view that nobody should go and sell her body especially not young ones who are not fully understanding this work and mostly they are coerced and tricked into the job.

These people are getting immediate help. They are not criminalised. They are victims and their testimony is helping the criminal case.

There were many more aspects of the law changed to support the victims and to help their recovery, but time is short here to talk about all of it. 

I would just like to highlight that you shouldn’t keep up. 

Your work is terribly, terribly important. 

You know, your society, you know, your laws, you know, your customs, you can change the politicians’ views, the judiciary’s view, the police’s view. You just have to advocate that your views are good. Change is always possible. So please let me know if you have any questions. Please write me anytime if you need help. And I’m happy to help. I happy to advise. And thank you very much to listening to me and I hope

I gave you a proper overview of our past couple of years of work. Thank you very much.