Belgian sex workers ask new government to decriminalise prostitution

Belgian sex workers ask new government to decriminalise prostitution

Utopsi, an interest group for and by sex workers, called for a complete decriminalisation of sex work and a self-employment statute to protect themselves legally and socially.

Currently, sex work in Belgium is legal but everything around it, such as soliciting, advertising for sex work or pimping, is illegal.

There are no statutes for the estimated 26,000 sex workers in Belgium, which means they often have no access to social rights, and as the federal laws are interpreted differently in each municipality, the policy on prostitution in one street can differ from the policy in the next street.

To help politicians in the new government create a workable policy, Utsopi, the organization for and by Belgian sex workers, presented a list of requests and expectations just before the elections.

First of all, Utsopi asked to be involved as a full discussion partner in political debates at all levels of the government. "We want nothing about us discussed without us in the room," explained Sonia Verstappen, founder and co-chairman of Utsopi to Bruzz.

"It is absurd that decisions are made to protect us, without having first listened to our needs and expectations. No one but sex workers know better what is going on in the field," Verstappen added.

Her colleague Maxime Maes added that the need is great. "A few of our colleagues died last year. The violence continues," she said to Bruzz.

To make sex work safer, it must become a profession like every other, and should also be seen that way. Utsopi, therefore, advocated for recognition of the profession and easier access to the self-employed statute.

Pimping, which is now prohibited, must be redefined as well. According to Utsopi, the term is currently too broad. Collectives of sex workers who work together can end up in the grey zone as 'pimps', just like payrolling services such as Tentoo or Smart.

The stigmatisation of sex workers must be countered. Utsopi wants to do this by making discrimination against sex workers punishable. The police must also be made aware of how to handle sex workers, just as they are getting training courses on LGBTQ people.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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