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New Law: Turning Pimps into Managers or Empowering Sex Workers?

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  • A recent law in Belgium now allows the government to mediate if sex workers refuse more than 10 clients or sexual acts in six months.
  • The labor law, passed on May 3rd, gives sex workers legal working rights similar to other professions, as well as protection against job-related risks.
  • Despite being hailed as a major step towards equal rights for sex workers, critics argue that it could further empower pimps and exploit women.

Belgium, recognized for its liberal stance on various social issues, has taken a notable step with its latest labor law. The legislation, passed earlier this month, grants the government the right to intervene if sex workers reject more than 10 clients or sexual acts within a six-month period.

This controversial stipulation is part of a broader package of reforms aimed at providing a legal framework for sex work in the country. As stated by UTSOPI, the Belgian Union of Sex Workers, the law enables sex workers to “work under an employment contract, thus gaining access to social security: pension, unemployment, health insurance, family benefits, annual vacation, [and] maternity leave.”

“[I]f a sex worker exercises the right to refuse more than ten times in a six-month period, the sex worker or the employer may seek the intervention of a governmental mediation service,” UTSOPI announced in a statement.

Passed by the Belgian parliament with 93 yeas, zero nays, and 33 abstentions, the legislation applies only to contracted sex workers. It should be noted that these contracts are not explicitly for sex work, to protect the workers’ privacy and potential career mobility. Instead, they bear resemblance to agreements signed by hotel, restaurant, and cafe staff.

To prevent illicit activities, the law maintains that employers should not have convictions for human trafficking, abuse of prostitution, voyeurism, or murder, among other offenses.

Belgium decriminalized sex work in March 2022, but specific labor laws were not established until May 3. The new regulations were labeled a “historic step in the battle for sex workers’ rights,” according to the UTSOPI statement.

UTSOPI spokesperson Daan Bauwens stressed the importance of the law in an interview, calling it a “world first” and of extraordinary significance. He emphasized that it was a realistic approach to sex work and aimed to “give rights and protection to workers.”

However, not everyone shares this perspective. Anti-prostitution activist Andrea Heinz, a former sex worker herself, voiced her concerns on social media. She argued that under this legislation, “pimps 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 & respect.”

Regardless of the differing viewpoints, the passage of this law marks a substantial shift in how sex work is regulated in Belgium. As the world watches, it is now a matter of observing the real-life implications of these reforms.

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