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Sex workers can now have regular job contracts in Belgium

Sex workers can now have regular job contracts in Belgium
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Dimitri Korczak
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The new rules allow them to sign job contracts with approved employers. It's an unprecedented effort to regulate the sector, but not everyone is convinced, as Euronews Witness reports.

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In Belgium prostitutes will soon have access to the same social rights as other employees, thanks to a law adopted in May 2024. The new rules allow them to sign job contracts with approved employers. It's an unprecedented effort to regulate the sector, but not everyone is convinced, as Euronews Witness reports.

Previously, hostess bars and erotic massage parlors in Belgium operated in a legal gray area: sex workers were paid in cash or were employed under waitress contracts.

It was considered an open door to abuse, according to supporters of the law.

"It feels good to know what is legally allowed because the question has always been whether we were doing things correctly or not," says Alexandra Moreels, owner of an erotic salon.

Clear rules on the sector

By decriminalising certain forms of pimping, the government says it intends to impose clear rules on the sector, create statuses adapted to the specific and unique aspects of sex work, and ensure access to unemployment benefits, health insurance, and maternity leave.

To recruit legally, employers must have their criminal records checked, obtain an authorisation to operate, and have their headquarters in Belgium. They must also respect their employees' right to refuse a client and to stop a sexual act at any time.

“We have no problem with that at all, so everything here is legal. It's as described in the law that is coming now. The ladies should be able to choose which client they want to do. That's already the case here” says Kris, Alexandra’s husband and co-owner of the salon.

"Obviously, some are forced to accept clients. And so for those people, it is super important that this law has been passed," explains Manon, who has been a sex worker in Belgium since she was 19 years old.

“It must be a job that offers us the same rights as anyone else's,” she adds.

Not unanimously accepted

However, this reform is not unanimously welcomed, especially among certain feminist associations that denounce a commodification of women's bodies and a text that is unsuitable for the situations of migrant prostitutes and victims of human trafficking.

Without a work permit, they cannot be hired under the framework of the new law.

"This will favor pimps and traffickers who already benefit from enormous impunity in Belgium," says Mireia Crespo, director of ISALA, an association that supports women prostitutes in vulnerable situations.

The most realistic approach

However, many professionals in the sector consider this reform to be the most realistic approach.

"Sex work exists. And if you don’t do it in the open, it will exist underground," says Karin Van Der Elst, owner of Villa Tinto in Antwerp, a real estate complex where prostitutes can rent windows by the day.

At this stage, the new law still raises many questions. According to experts, it will take several years to assess its effects on the living conditions of sex workers as well as on trafficking and pimping.

 

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