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Belgium ignores survivors of prostitution and encourage other Member States to follow its path

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) deeply regrets the Belgian Presidency’s decision to discuss prostitution during tomorrow’s informal meeting of Justice ministers without prior consultation with survivors of prostitution and NGOs working with survivors. We urge the Ministers of Justice attending this meeting to meet survivors and not banalise this form of violence that affects primarily women and girls.

[Brussels, 25 January 2024] This is with disappointment and lack of understanding that we discover a discussion about “decriminalisation of sex work” is planned in theagenda of the Belgian Presidency’s for tomorrow’s informal meeting of Justice ministers.

Promoting the “sex work” narrative, the approach adopted by the Belgian presidency disrespects the European Parliament’s resolution adopted in September 2023 which recognises that “the UN and EU agreed upon language is prostitution and people/women in prostitution” and that “sex must be based on consent, which can only be given freely and voluntarily, and cannot be replaced by the exchange of money”.

The description of the event also acknowledges that the law recently adopted in Belgium was the result of consultations organised “closely with sex workers organisations”, ignoring all the survivors of prostitution that do not want to label prostitution as work, a word that softens all the inherent violence, sexism, classism and racism to be found in the purchase of sexual acts.

Therefore, the European Women’s Lobby urges all Ministers of Justice attending tomorrow’s meeting to listen to survivors, to stand by them and implement well-funded support and exit programmes, following the legislation adopted by several countries in Europe such as France, Sweden and Ireland. Indeed, the Equality Model is the best legal model to adopt when it comes to protecting women and girls in prostitution suffering from multiple forms of precarity and social exclusion as it decriminalises them. At the same time, it offers them health, social, educational and economic support. This model not only gives survivors of prostitution tools to take their power, agency and autonomy back but it puts the burden of stigmatisation and shame on the so-called “sex buyers’’ who believe that freely given consent can be bought.

It is time for a Europe free from sexual exploitation for women and girls, now!

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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