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Sex workers call for official status as sector struggles under Covid-19 restrictions

A demonstration organized by the UTSOPI collective to protest against the closure of sex work activities, Sunday 07 March 2021, in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK)
07:14 08/03/2021

Dozens of sex workers demonstrated at Brussels North station on Sunday, calling for an appropriate exit plan from the coronavirus restrictions which have decimated their industry.

They also demanded that the government finally assign a clear official status to their sector which would allow them to access support structures and benefits.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, sex workers have been forced to stop their activities and many have not benefited from the support other sectors have enjoyed. Now that the first easing of the current restrictions has been announced, they feel they are being ignored. "This pandemic has once again demonstrated the need for a clear status," a spokeswoman said.

"There are some 30,000 sex workers in Belgium who have had to stop working since March 2020," one of the demonstrators added. "Most were left without income because they could not apply for financial aid or any other assistance, as they do not have a status. Many had no choice but to continue their activities clandestinely with all the health risks that this entails."

"Contact trades can resume, but what about us?” she continued. “We were not mentioned at the last press conference. It's like we don't exist for the government, when we do exist, and we pay taxes just as well."

The text of the agreement reached in the Committee on Consultation clearly mentions prostitution, which remains prohibited, as the rules of distancing of 1.5 metres "cannot be guaranteed between the service provider and the consumer".

"This crisis has shown once again that a clear legal status is needed," the demonstrator added. "If that had been the case, we would not have had all these problems.

"Then we could practice our profession, because that is what it is all about, legally. We would also not have to play with the statutes and work under the names 'masseuse' or beautician'."

Written by Nick Amies