"8 in 10 prostitutes are being exploited"

Some 26,000 women are working in the Belgian sex industry. 80 per cent of them are being exploited, says the People Trafficking Unit of the federal police. "Sexual exploitation is peaking. Human traffickers and pimps are working in more subtle ways now", says detective Wim Bontinck.

Most female sex workers can be found in big cities such as Brussels, Antwerp, Liège and Mons. However, a network is developing in more remote areas as well, detectives say, where smaller networks can be found employing women from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Portugal and Nigeria.

Prostitution in itself is not against the law in Belgium, but it becomes a punishable act when it is being organised or when women are being exploited. This is nearly always the case, it turns out. 8 in 10 prostitutes (some 21,000) are in this situation. In order to avoid prosecution, pimps and human traffickers are finding new ways to operate to stay below the radar.

"We are seeing much more private prostitution. It is often camouflaged. There is a lot of cash involved and third parties are eager to make some money as well", detective Wim Bontinck told the VRT.

The fight against pimps is a hard one, but is going the right way. "We try to hit them where they are most vulnerable: the financial side of things. We take them to court and try to have all their belongings confiscated in their country of origin."

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