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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Belgian government will negotiate with prostitutes who refuse sex

Opponents of new law say it will turn pimps into state-sanctioned ‘managers’

A new labor law concerning Belgian sex workers will allow a pimp to demand that the government mediate in cases where a prostitute refuses sex with clients too frequently. Anti-prostitution activists say that the law will allow prostitutes’ managers to “further entrench and maintain their power.”

Passed earlier this month, the law allows sex workers to obtain employment contracts from their pimps. These contracts classify prostitutes as hospitality employees and entitle them to health insurance, pensions, unemployment benefits, holidays and maternity leave.

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Pimps must be licensed by the government to issue employment contracts, and must allow prostitutes to refuse or to stop sex with clients for any reason. However, if a prostitute refuses or stops sex more than ten times over six months, their pimp can open a labor dispute and involve a government mediator.

Belgium decriminalized sex work in 2022, allowing prostitutes to work as freelancers. However, employing a sex worker under contract remained a criminal offense, meaning that agreements between pimps and prostitutes existed in a legal gray area and contained no legally-binding protections for the prostitute.

UTSOPI, a trade union for sex workers in Belgium, hailed the new law. “Without a labor law, sex workers would still be legally discriminated against,” UTSOPI spokesman Daan Bauwens said in a statement. “That is now over.”

“We hope that other countries will copy this text, as they did on topics such as same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia and transgender rights,” Bauwens added.

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However, anti-exploitation activist Andrea Heinz argued that the new model simply allows pimps to “become ‘managers’ with the backing of the state to further entrench and maintain their power.”

“Pimps see women they sell as products, not people deserving of full dignity and respect,” Heinz wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “And ‘government mediator’…Wtf is that? Someone to mediate pimp-victim ‘contracts’, ie. gently encourage women to get back in the brothel bed when they are ‘not fulfilling their [sexual] obligations?’”

According to official estimates from 2022, there are around 3,000 sex workers active in Belgium. However, some studies put that number at ten times higher. The Belgian Federal Police claimed in 2015 that around 26,000 women were working as prostitutes, and that 80% of them were being exploited by trafficking gangs from Bulgaria, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Nigeria, among other countries.