News/Hungary: Hungarians Say 'Stop' to Red-Light Districts Hungarians Say 'Stop' to Red-Light Districts

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Subject: News/Hungary: Hungarians Say 'Stop' to Red-Light Districts Hungarians Say 'Stop' to Red-Light Districts
From: by way of Melanie Orhant ( )
Date: Mon Apr 03 2000 - 10:36:23 EDT

Hungarians Say 'Stop' to Red-Light Districts
Officials Befuddled By New Prostitution Law
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 12, 2000; Page A24

BUDAPEST-When public policy meets prostitution, the encounter is not
satisfying--as Hungary is discovering.

In September, as part of a package passed by parliament to fight
crime, the government decided to crack down on the criminals who organize
prostitution while allowing individual men and women to sell sex in
zones to be designated by local authorities.

But the framers of the prostitutes-without-pimps legislation, guided by
Europe's vaunted liberal traditions on matters sexual, didn't count on
factors familiar to Americans: parochialism and Puritanism.

In short, the proposal hasn't worked because not a single mayor or local
council is willing to face the outrage of voters by creating a red-light
district in someone's neighborhood.

And in the interim, no one--not the government, the police, the local
politicians or the prostitutes--can agree if or where prostitution is now
legal in Hungary.

"I honestly can't tell you what the legal situation is," Budapest Mayor
Gabor Demszky said. "What I do know is we have a very bad law that can't

The Interior Ministry says prostitution is legal everywhere outside
restricted areas near churches and schools and will remain so until local
governments designate "tolerance zones." And officials said prostitutes
could sue the police if they are harassed.

The Hungarian National Police, on the other hand, believe prostitution is
illegal everywhere until the politicians create the tolerance zones. So
are using the law's steep fines for working outside the yet-to-be-created
zones to force prostitutes off the streets.

"Right now it appears they can't work anywhere," said Col. Laszlo Nemeth,
officer in the Hungarian police's Organized Crime Directorate.

For the country's 16,000 prostitutes--8,000 of them in Budapest--these
indeed confusing times. In Budapest's 8th District, the city's informal
red-light district, streets that once teemed with prostitutes at night
empty. The 8th District's police chief said that without a tolerance
the whole area is in effect a protected zone, and he has sent his
out to arrest offenders.

Prostitutes, in response, have retreated to bars, restaurants and hotel
lobbies. "The situation is terrible. It's a mess," said one woman, who
refused to give her name as she sipped coffee in a hotel.

The law was intended to be a model of rationalism that would regulate the
world's oldest profession, subjecting those who sell sex to health
inspections and requiring them to file income tax returns.

At the same time, it called for heavy fines and jail time for pimping or
working as a prostitute outside a designated area. Advertising of
was outlawed, but prostitutes were allowed to create brothels provided
was no outside signage and no controlling madam.

"The regulations are generous and make prostitution free and legal under
certain conditions," said Akos Borai, a senior Interior Ministry official
who drafted the legislation. "The response of the politicians and the
is just silliness."

But Demszky, the Budapest mayor, said the law is suicide for local
politicians. The capital, for instance, has 23 districts, each with its
elected mayor.

The city is supposed to have three tolerance zones, but not one of the 23
mayors wants one in his or her area. If the mayors agreed to create
it would signal the end of their political careers, Demszky said.

"There is a very strong NIMBY [not in my back yard] effect," Demszky
"No politician wants to act on this, and that is a problem that cannot be

Demszky said he would like the government to rewrite the legislation so
federal authorities can designate the tolerance zones over the heads of
local councils. But he noted wryly that federal officials pushed the
down to local areas and may not want it back because it will cost them
votes, too.

Demszky and other city officials suggested using an island in the Danube,
some other remote and uninhabited location in the city, as the protected
zone. But the city's prostitutes objected.

"I don't want to be stuck on some island," said the prostitute in the
lobby. "And I don't think the customers would like it."

Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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