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    How the lockdown is impacting Belgium’s sex workers

    This crisis is not so much creating new problems as it allows existing problems for sex workers to surface. Credit: Belga

    As the red-light districts have been shut and people have to keep 1.5 metres social distance apart, the continuing lockdown measures are taking a toll on sex workers in Belgium.

    UTSOPI, the Belgian union for and by sex workers, has advised its members against continuing to work during the measures put in place to stop the further spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19). However, some people have no other choice but to continue to work, as they have no right to receive a government compensation of some kind, and often slip through the cracks of the system, Daan Bauwens of UTSOPI told The Brussels Times.

    “We are in contact with about 100 sex workers, and from what I have been told, they have all stopped working for the time being,” said Bauwens, adding that the only ones still working are those who have no other choice.

    However, the demand for sex workers’ services has certainly picked up again after over a month in lockdown, according to sex worker Sigrid Schellen. “My work phone is turned off, but I get emails and messages on social media every day, and I have also noticed that they are becoming more pushy,” she told The Brussels Times.

    “I can well imagine that the few people who do continue to work have a full plate at the moment, but I do not think there is more work, in general,” Schellen said. “It’s certainly no big business at the moment. I think that only applies to people who are willing to take the risks,” she added.

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    The red light district and brothels have been shut and the increased police presence on the streets makes soliciting almost impossible. “Hotels are also closed, so taking clients there is not an option. Most of the clients are married, but with everyone working from home right now, going to their place is not possible either. Some sex workers could receive clients in their own homes, but I do not know how practical that is, with all the police checks,” said Schellen. “In practice, even if you want to continue working, it is almost not feasible,” he added.

    “Of the people that I know personally, everyone is staying home now. Some of them have switched to working via their webcams,” Schellen said. “I think that part of the business is doing very well at the moment,” she added.

    This crisis is not so much creating new problems as it allows existing problems to the surface, according to Bauwens, who points to the lack of a legal statute. While technically unemployed people are receiving government compensation now that they cannot work because of the lockdown, sex workers do not have their own legal statute and cannot request compensation to fall back on.

    “Bridging a week or two without working, that’s okay, but this situation has been going on for over a month now,” said Schellen. “Bills have to be paid, and that money has to come from somewhere. I can very well imagine that the people who do not have a safety net, the most vulnerable group in other words, are still at work,” she added.

    The regulations concerning sex work have major flaws because no one wants to deal with the subject, according to Bauwens. Legally, sex work is in no man’s land, as it is not forbidden by law, but it is not entirely legal either, and regulations depend on the region, and sometimes even municipality in which it is practised.

    “The neglectful treatment of sex work, and all the consequences that has for the people in sex work, is now being amplified in this situation,” he added.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times