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Open letter to Belgian Ministers - Listen to survivors of prostitution!

[Brussels, 23 April 2024]

Dear Minister of Economy and Work Pierre-Yves Dermagne,

Dear Minister of Social Affairs Frank Vandenbroucke,

Dear Minister of Justice Paul Van Tigchelt,

Dear State of Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity, Marie-Colline Leroy,

The European Women’s Lobby is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in Europe with 32 national coordination organisations and 17 European-wide member organisations, representing a total of more than 2,000 women’s rights organisations. We are writing to you today to express our dismay with the law you are about to pass at the Belgian Parliament about persons in prostitution.

Indeed, as we already pointed out in our press release following the informal meeting of Justice ministers organised under the Belgian Presidency of the EU last January, this is highly concerning that this law is the result of consultations organised only with so-called “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. We already contacted Minister Van Tigchelt a few months ago but we did not receive any answer back once we said we wanted to talk about the topic of prostitution.

Prostitution is a form of violence that nourishes itself from different forms of systemic inequalities based on exploitation, sex, poverty, age, ethnicity and migration status. Women and girls are the most affected by prostitution as they represent 90% of persons in prostitution while 97% of so-called “sex-buyers” are men. A report based on 9 countries found that 63% of women in prostitution have reported having been raped since entering prostitution and 71% of women reported physical assault while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes highlighted that women in prostitution are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and ethnicity who are not in prostitution. For all these reasons, it is clear that prostitution can never be considered as work.

We also want to remind you about 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 UN also stated several times (1949, 1979, 2020) that “States parties must pursue all appropriate means to eradicate trafficking and exploitation of prostitution to ensure that laws, systems, regulations and funding are in place to make the realisation of that right effective, rather than illusory. The Committee acknowledges that trafficking and exploitation of prostitution in women and girls is unequivocally a phenomenon rooted in structural, sex-based discrimination, constituting gender-based violence”.

We therefore insist and urge you on the need to consult and meet with survivors, survivors-led organisations and women’s rights organisations supporting survivors. The normalisation of prostitution fosters acts of violence against women by sending the message that women are commodities. Equality between women and men and genuine sexual freedom cannot be achieved as long as prostitution exists and no contract can make prostitution less violent than it is inherently. On the contrary, we advise you to adopt the “Equality Model” that grants rights and support to persons in prostitution while it criminalises pimps and so-called “sex-buyers”.

We are looking forward to receiving your answers and to having the opportunity to meet you to pursue this discussion on this very important topic.


Iliana Balabanova, President of the European Women’s Lobby
Mary Collins, Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby

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