Sex workers in Belgium celebrate historic vote for Decriminalisation in parliament

Anarchists, libertarians, anti-authoritarians, this is how you do it. One microstate at a time.

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Sex workers in Belgium are celebrating a historic vote in parliament that will result in an amendment to the country’s Penal Code and the laws on sex work. NSWP member organisation Utsopi wrote about the news on their website, declaring “The decriminalisation of sex work in Belgium was approved by the Federal Parliament on March 18 at 1:35 a.m.” The Federal Parliament voted in favour of this rights-affirming legal reform with 70 for, 41 abstentions and just 4 against. When the new laws are enacted, it will make Belgium the first country in Europe to decriminalise sex work.

The current legal situation for sex work in Belgium means that it is tolerated and regulated at a local level. The laws however are restrictive, with a mismatch of different laws and policies in each local area, and sex workers are not able to benefit from appropriate legal, social or employment protection.

Utsopi outlined the proposed changes to the law, which we have summarised below.

“1. Regarding services to sex workers: third parties are no longer criminalised. Opening a bank account, creating a website, offering insurance and renting out a space to sex workers can no longer lead to prosecution. Self- employed sex workers are given the same rights as other self-employed people.

2. Regarding advertising: Advertising remains prohibited, with these exceptions:

  • If you advertise your own services
  • If you advertise for sexual services or for a place where sexual services are offered (e.g. a club) on an internet platform or on another medium (e.g. a designated section in a newspaper) that exists especially for this purpose. This means that advertising for sex work in public places (posters in bus stops, billboards on the motorway,…) is not allowed.
  • The internet platform must demonstrate that it is making reasonable efforts to combat the abuse of prostitution and trafficking in human beings. Cases of abuse and trafficking must be immediately reported to the police and judicial authorities.

3. Regarding running a business: Pimping is prohibited, but is strictly defined to be able to distinguish between economic and respectful organisation on the one hand and exploitation on the other. Pimping is: organising the sex work of another to benefit oneself, except in the cases provided for by the law…

4. Public incitement to sex work: It remains prohibited to incite people publicly to prostitution by means of advertising. This applies, for example, to the advertising of paid dating sites at the entrance to a university. Using any means whatsoever to incite someone in public to prostitution is punishable. The law clarifies here that this means offering dinners, gifts or other lures.

5. The impossibility of declaring a contract null and void: This is another law that was already approved in the Federal Parliament a few weeks before the decriminalisation. Before this law, in case of a conflict between a sex worker and an operator that came before the courts, it was possible for the operator to ask the court to declare the contract null and void.

According to the Civil Code in Belgium, sex work is not in accordance with public morals, therefore any contract with a sex worker cannot be legally valid. This meant that the sex worker not only lost the lawsuit, but also all social rights that were accumulated under this contract (pension, holiday, sick leave, …). Since this law, approved by the Federal Parliament on 17 February 2022, declaring a sex worker’s contract null and void is no longer possible.”

The European Sex Workers Rights Alliance (ESWA) also celebrated the news, taking to Twitter to say: “This victory is the culmination of many years of work by sex workers and allies in the difficult context of the COVID pandemic. Belgian lawmakers clearly rejected the failed Swedish Model and listened to sex workers. While we await further details, we are delighted at the progress made and join in the celebrations of our members and allies.”


Leave a Reply