Decriminalization of prostitution in Belgium: “A law that will protect customers and pimps”, denounces Laurence Rossignol
A status, social protection, mutual insurance… A law passed three months ago which comes into force on Wednesday takes prostitution out of illegality and above all grants prostitutes the same rights as self-employed workers. “Belgium has become the first European country to decriminalize prostitution. Pimping remains a crime, but prostitutes now have a status,” wrote the RTL Belgium website last March.
The term “decriminalize” can be confusing here. Remember that in France, as in many other countries in the world, prostitution in itself is not sanctioned. The law of April 13, 2016 activated the penalization of customers, an offense punishable by a fine of 1500 euros, the fine and which can go up to 3750 euros in the event of a repeat offence.
“In France, we always confuse pimping with human trafficking”
Similarly, the criminal code punishes the activity of pimping, an offense punishable by seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 euros. “The decriminalization of prostitution means that, like New Zealand, Belgium stops penalizing third parties who do not commit abuse. It can be the manager of a salon, a lessor… This is one of the main demands of the TDS movement (sex workers)”, says Cybèle Lespérance, spokesperson for Strass (Sex Work Union), before adding: “In France, we always confuse pimping with human trafficking. I work in Airbnb with a colleague and I could be prosecuted for pimping. With my husband, we are careful to have separate accounts. He can’t pick me up after work because he could be prosecuted for pimping.
“It’s a mafia market that benefits from compassionate support”
The new Belgian law provides that all third parties who lead to prostitutional activity “can no longer be prosecuted, except in the case of abnormal profit”. “Based on what criteria are we going to consider that a profile is abnormal? All these laws that claim to protect prostituted people will in reality only allow clients and pimps, ”deplores PS Senator Laurence Rossignol.
The former Minister for Women’s Rights who brought the 2016 law warns of “the expansion of the sex market”. “It’s a mafia market which benefits from compassionate support but which only aims to liberalize the sex market and make it a business like any other. In Germany, ten years after the legalization of prostitution in 2002, this market has quadrupled to reach 14 billion in 2013,” she recalls.
“In Germany, it’s not the same. The German model is a regulatory model that requires working in a salon. It’s a two-tier system that favors automobile exploitation, the more third parties there are, the greater the risk of abuse,” emphasizes Cybèle Lespérance.
In France, it is the Central Office for the Suppression of Trafficking in Human Beings (OCRTEH) which has been competent since 1958 to suppress offenses relating to trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes and pimping “, as explained last month before the Senate, the divisional commissioner at the head of the Office, Elvire Arrighi.
1,300 “customers” are fined each year
But for Laurence Rossignol, the 2016 law is insufficiently applied. Last year, the delegation for women’s rights sent an open letter to the government on the application of the text, which was considered to be still too weak. The signatories pointed out that since 2016, only 1,300 “customers” have been fined each year, with 50% of the procedures in the Paris region.
Similarly, in five years, 2% of prostitutes have had recourse to the financial assistance system for social and professional integration (AFIS), offered to prostitutes undergoing retraining, introduced by law.
In 2022, the text is still not unanimous. In particular the penalization of the client that it allowed, seen by some of those concerned and activists as a bad measure endangering prostitutes,