Prostitution in Belgium

Prostitution is not prohibited in Belgium. Consequently, people who sell sexual services are not penalised. The legal minimum age to work as a sex worker is 18 years old. It is illegal for someone under 18 years old to enter prostitution.

It is also illegal to solicit in public places for the purpose of prostitution nor attract customers with words, gestures or signs, which means that street prostitution is prohibited. Sex workers are forbidden from advertising their services in newspapers and online. Belgium exercises a policy of tolerance and these matters often remain in a grey zone.

The person who receives the sexual services is the customer. If the sex worker is of age (18 years old), paying for sexual services is not a criminal offence in Belgium. However, the customer must adhere to what was agreed with the sex worker, if not, he/she can be charged with sexual or indecent assault and even rape.

Prostitution in Belgium is not prohibited if the people involved are over 18 years of age. Neither the prostitute nor the customer can be charged.


What about pimphood?

Belgium signed the Convention of New York in 1950 which prohibits human trafficking and sexual exploitation, the exploitation of people for the purpose of prostitution, even with the consent of the individual involved, running a brothel or renting out accommodation for prostitution purposes. This means that pimping or souteneurship, i.e. initiating prostitution and profiting from other people’s prostitution is a criminal offence and punishable. Article 380 of the Belgian Penal Code is based on this Convention and translates this as follows:

Are punishable those who:

  • lure or lead away, for purposes of prostitution, another adult person, even with the consent of that person.
  • operate premises for prostitution
  • rent out a room/a house for prostitution and make sizeable gains from doing so
  • derive financial gain from prostitution in every way possible

According to the same article, bar or window operators, escort company managers, escort chauffeurs, operators and landlords of private homes, those who run advertising websites, pornographic production companies, etc. are also punishable.

Pimping is forbidden in Belgium and any person who derives financial gain from another's prostitution is punishable. However, in practice a policy of tolerance was never put into clearly define regulations, and many of these operators work in a rather grey zone. Also, the priorities of the police and the public prosecutor focus first and foremost on the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, rather than on the prosecution of prostitution.

Prostitution at municipal level

In the absence of sound national legislation, several Belgian cities and municipalities have introduced their own prostitution regulations on the grounds of Article 119bis of the New Municipal Act.

Cities and municipalities can regulate prostitution on their territory in the interest of public order and safety and to better control of the situation. In practice, prostitution is moved to certain well-defined areas of the city such as the Antwerp Schipperskwartier or the Ghent window neighbourhood.

Every municipality has its own criminal prosecution policy and can enforce its own regulations in the interest of public order and safety. This can translate into a greater police presence in red light districts or in more regular checks of bars and clubs. Some local authorities even ban prostitution from their territory and close premises where prostitution takes place.

Regular checks are also carried out in private houses or on independent sex workers in the fight against fraud and illegal workers.

As prostitution operates in a grey zone, law enforcement is often not straightforward.

Prostitution policy in Antwerp

The city of Antwerp introduced a prostitution policy in 2002. It is based on the three following objectives:

Safety, reduction of nuisance for the neighbourhood and improved working conditions for sex workers.

The main change was the creation of a tolerance zone for window prostitution The City Council allowed window prostitution in the Antwerp Schipperskwartier and modified local police regulations accordingly. Street prostitution is forbidden in the city and sex activities in private houses or erotic massage parlours are strictly controlled. A special police team monitors compliance with these local regulations.

The Antwerp prostitution plan includes funding for Violett’s medical and social assistance to sex workers. Villa Tinto, a complex located in the Schipperskwartier, lets windows to sex workers. The centre is renowned but the area houses plenty more places where sex workers can exercise their profession. None of these are in any way linked to the City of Antwerp.

Prostitution policy in Ghent

In 2015, the City of Ghent introduced measures to control window prostitution. The aim of these measures is to keep this type of prostitution manageable, increase safety, reduce nuisance for the neighbourhood and improve working conditions of sex workers.

Window prostitution is only tolerated in the Zuidbuurt, more particularly in “het Glasstraatje” and the Kortrijksesteenweg.

Contrary to other cities, Ghent categorises prostitution as a catering (hospitality) service which means that the operator/owner must draw up a service contract with the sex workers, similarly as that of café staff. Everyone employed or dismissed has to register with the Meprosch ‘street cops’ who monitor compliance with the municipal regulations and regularly check prostitution establishments including private brothels and massage parlours.

Violett receives funding from the city of Ghent to provide accessible medical and social assistance to sex workers.

Do you have any further questions about prostitution in Belgium?

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