Sex Trafficking: A Reality for Hungary, Europe, and the World

Before I left for Paris in 2009 to study at the Sorbonne and run the 33rd Paris marathon to celebrate my own physical health and ascension from a challenging childhood to a healthy young woman, I returned to my home state of Pennsylvania and ran my old childhood route. I ran for two hours and could feel my almost 30-year-old body morph back into that determined eight year-old-girl who was already witnessing too much violence, swearing I would travel the world and help ignite positive change. The same hills of my childhood seemed so small that day, and as I ran onward I found myself in an open cornfield swathed in golden sunlight. I just stood there. So strong. So free.

While in London yesterday running along the River Thames, I stopped to breathe the biggest sigh of relief, because I felt like for the first time in some months I had my own safety back. Viable threats to my body and to harm have been decreased by rigorous follow ups, reminders, and DNA tests; even after I was told an escalation of harm to me would be more helpful to the law. I leaned over the bridge and just thought, “I’m an athlete, a writer, and if it’s this hard for me, what about women who actually work in the sex industry, much less those who are trafficked?”

For the past year, I have been following the work of Andrea Matolcsi who joined MONA Foundation for the Women of Hungary, a gender equality NGO, in late 2008. MONA is one of the founding members of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby, which is a member of the European Women’s Lobby. Andrea is the project coordinator of the Development of Interdisciplinary Cooperation in Hungary to Support the Fight against Trafficking and Prostitution.

Recently, Andrea explained that some of the major shortcomings in Hungary in the field of trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution are legislation, victim assistance, and interdisciplinary cooperation. According to Andrea, the MONA project “developed proposals for a thorough and appropriate revision of the relevant legal–institutional framework, for the development of an institutional system that is able to care for victims, and for the initiation of prevention programs, both on a societal and an individual level, including research, public awareness-raising, education, and training programs.”

She shares MONA’s goal is to create, “as soon as possible a law as a result of which it will be less worthwhile and risk-free to pimp prostitutes, to keep a brothel, to recruit, sell or buy women and children; a law which ensures respect for victims and provides them with assistance, and also guarantees protection for those who assist them.”

In fact, in her interview with me Andrea twice cited that MONA, “considers it necessary that a legal framework is developed that does not confuse the rights of women with a right to women: one that protects the right of all women to a life free from prostitution.”

Officially completed in March 2010, MONA’s project still continues activities, and it does so during a highly relevant time, because sex trafficking numbers are growing fast. According to Rich Daly’s article Sex Traffic Rises, Along With Scramble for Solutions released on June 16 via Women’s e-News, “the State Department's annual release of trafficking figures estimated 12.3 million adults and children were trafficked in 2009, at a rate of 1.8 people per 1,000 worldwide. The Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 graded 175 nations on their efforts to combat all forms of human trafficking and found local officials were able to identify 49,105 victims of all types of trafficking, which is 59 percent more than in 2008.”

A recent Ms. Blog post, 10 Things Men and Boys Can Do to Stop Human Trafficking states: “Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to provide labor or commercial sex against their will, and it is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world.”

Ms. Blog also cites the Polaris Project, which gives even higher statistics than the State Department. According to them, “27 million people are enslaved globally. 14,000–17,500 individuals are brought into the U.S. as human trafficking victims each year. One million children enter the global commercial sex trade every year.”

As I ran back to my London hotel, I realized again how deep my desire for safety and health in this world so I can write about and run for those who do not have the means to create it for themselves as of yet. Dana Popa’s Not Natasha, pictured here and originally published by the International Museum of Women’s Imagining Ourselves, features women who were sex trafficked in Moldova, the poorest nation in Europe. Natasha is a nickname given to prostitutes.

In February 2010, the European Women’s Lobby released From Beijing to Brussels an Unfinished Journey, which summarizes what the organization sees as a need for greater progress during an exceptionally challenged time. “Both new and persistent challenges for actors working to achieve effective equality between women and men exist at local, national, European and the global level. The most immediate and visible of these challenges is the financial and economic crisis, which has become a social crisis. The European Women’s Lobby’s strong and consistent message is that the crisis is gendered in both its nature and its effects and that, given this, it is all the more necessary to pursue and strengthen policies for the protection of women’s independence, integrity, and equality.”

Photo credit: Dana Popa