Sex workers say Brussels prostitution ban drives them underground

by Reuters
Tuesday, 29 September 2020 16:46 GMT

SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB A sex worker holds a doll during a protest demanding to reopen brothels, after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Berlin, Germany, July 3, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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Brussels banned prostitution in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but sex workers say it has left them with little protection

By Clement Rossignol and Bart Biesemans

BRUSSELS, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Belgium's capital has banned prostitution in certain districts in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. For sex- workers, however, the prohibition is a threat to their livelihoods.

In the Alhambra neighbourhood, just a stone's throw away from the European Commission, prostitution is now illegal and three motels used for brief encounters have been closed.

That does not stop 24-year-old Magdalena from working there.

"When people can go to bars and meet each other and get together in restaurants, then banning prostitution is just stupid," Magdalena told Reuters.

Originally from Morroco, he has been a sex worker for three years and said he will not be put off by the ban despite the health situation. He will continue working, although he dreams of becoming a singer.

Sex workers had to stop their activities on March 13, just a few days before a national lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They were all left with nothing," said Marie, who works at the organization Utsopi, which represents sex workers in Belgium.

Utsopi helped provide food and shelter during the three-month lockdown but poverty and hardship rose among the community.

Prostitution is not illegal in Belgium but there are also no unified national rules, with each town regulating the business as it sees fit.

"What the city of Brussels is doing is not protecting the workers, it's not proposing anything except making them work clandestinely," Marie said.

Belgium, where the European Union and NATO have their headquarters, imposed a lockdown on March 18 due to COVID-19, which has claimed 9,987 lives in the country, one of the world's highest fatality figures per capita.

(Writing by Marine Strauss; Editing by Angus MacSwan)