The Chamber definitively approved in the night of Thursday to Friday in plenary session the reform of the sexual criminal law. Belgium has become the first European country to decriminalize prostitution. Pimping remains a crime, but prostitutes now have status.
Marie, a former sex worker, has been an activist for decades for status and rights. “The Ddecriminalization is excellent news, we could not have dreamed of better“, says Marie, co-founder of theASBL UTSOPI, the first collective of sex workers in Belgium. “It’s the first country in Europe and second country worldwide“, she adds.
Sex workers have been left without income for months during the pandemic. With this change in law, such a situation will not happen again.
“Everything will change, the lives of sex workers will completely change, like having mutual insurance… In fact, everything people have that’s so common that people think everyone has that, but it’s not true“, says Mary.
Having social rights such as a pension, health insurance, paid holidays, will become possible. “A lessor, bank manager, insurer, accountant, website developer, etc. All these third parties are decriminalized now“, Explain Daan Bauwensdirector of theASBL UTSOPI.
Marie had to live in the shadows for years. “People always thought that prostitution was legal in Belgium, but no, it was tolerated. To be tolerated is to be in a gray area. You have no rights. Have a bank account or loan for a car… the always have to lie and ask someone to use as an alibi. You always have to live in hiding. It was super complicated“.
“This is a historic reform”
The bill, led by the Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborneaims to take into account the evolution of society and to place the concept of consent at the heart of the new legislation.
The reform also decriminalizes prostitution, but not pimping, which will be punished by imprisonment for one to five years and a fine of 500 to 25,000 euros. Prostitution remains prohibited to minors. The new law also regulates its advertising, which is prohibited with a few exceptions.
“In terms of sex work, this is a historic reform“, comments Minister Van Quickenborne. “She ensures that sex workers are no longer stigmatized, exploited and made dependent on others. Belgium is the first country in Europe to decriminalize sex work.“
The penalties are adapted
Until now, sexual offenses were considered as crimes and offenses against the order of families and public morals, as provided for in legislation dating from 1867. Sexual offenses will now belong to offenses against persons.
Thus, the notion of indecent assault disappears while the notions of rape and voyeurism are expanded. Incest is also finally mentioned in the law.
The sentences are adapted, rape being thus punished by a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison, instead of 5 to 10 years. A conversely, for the sake of proportionality, penalties for voyeurism are reduced.
In certain circumstances, the judge will have the possibility of pronouncing alternative sentences to prison for the perpetrators of sexual offences.
The bill also provides for the harmonization of the age of sexual majority at 16, with tolerance from the age of 14 in the event of consent and a maximum age difference of three years.
The reform approved by the majority
The text approved on Thursday is the fruit of several months of works: the Justice commission held three days of hearings with players and experts, including the college of public prosecutors, the college of courts and tribunals, the High Council of Justice, Avocats.beuniversity professors or even the associations Utsopi, Espace P, SOS Inceste, Femmes de droit or even Child Focus.
Several demonstrations aimed at amending the project, in particular from the Faces network which brings together several feminist associations, had also been organized. Following the hearings, many amendments were tabled.
The entry into force, initially announced for March 1, 2022, will finally take place on the first day of the third month following that of its publication in the Monitor, i.e. probably June 1. The reform was approved by the majority, joined by Challenge. The N-VAthe Flemish Interest and the PTB abstained. The Engaged have voted vs.
The opposition pointed to the persistence of certain difficulties, particularly in terms of the effectiveness of prosecutions. The absence of in camera, professional secrecy, the lack of resources granted to justice, the absence of the notion of incest for adults or the procedures establishing the social status of sex workers have also been criticized.
Minister Van Quickenborne has also announced that it will submit a complete reform of the penal code to the Council of Ministers by the summer, to be validated by the end of the legislature in 2024.