Belgium first European country to decriminalise sex work

On Wednesday, a new sexual penal code that removes sex work from the penal code entered into force in Belgium. This makes Belgium the first European country to decriminalise sex work. The country is only the second in the world to do so: New Zealand preceded Belgium in 2003.

Voluntary sex work as such was not prohibited in Belgium, but facilitating or organising sex work was. Belgium applied a type of tolerance policy, but no legal framework. Decriminalisation should ensure recognition and protection of sex workers.

The reform was adopted by the Belgian Federal Parliament in May and includes the step-by-step decriminalisation of sex work for adults. In the first step, sex work on a legal basis becomes possible only for self-employed sex workers. Advertising for sex work is only allowed when advertising for one's own services. 

“In terms of sex work, this is a historic reform,” Van Quickenborne said in a press release when the penal code change was adopted in May. “It ensures that sex workers are no longer stigmatised, exploited and made dependent on others. Belgium is the first country in Europe to decriminalise sex work. It confirms our nation’s ethically progressive reputation.”

The amendment also provides for stricter action against the abuse of sex work. The specialised centres for human trafficking will be able to offer first-line help to victims of the abuse, even if there is no question of human trafficking.

In addition, the new Belgian sexual penal code mainly includes adjustments to combat sexual violence. The concept of consent is central to the reform and the maximum penalty for rape is doubled.



© BELGA PHOTO (NICOLAS MAETERLINCK) A demonstration organized by the UTSOPI collective to protest against the closure of sex work activities in Brussels.


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