Brussels' battle against sex on the streets
Brussels claimed this week it is winning the battle against street prostitution, but some city residents stress the problem persists. Aaron Gray-Block investigates.
Brussels' problematic street prostitution is primarily centered around the Handels or Alhambra city district.
Brussels is waging a war of zero tolerance against street prostitution
Deciding to sharply increase the number of patrols, Brussels now conducts inspections twice per month. It also set up a mobile commissionership to study the problem.
And according to city Mayor Freddy Thielemans, the crackdown is succeeding.
Brussels expelled 173 street prostitutes last year, 126 of whom were repatriated to their country of origin. A further 47 were ordered to leave the city.
In light of these figures, Thielemans also said at the end of January the number of street prostitutes in the Belgian capital is gradually declining.
Winning the battle?
In 2005, Brussels police carried out 23 anti-street prostitution patrols and 466 administrative inspections, up from 436 in 2004.
Police ran background checks on 301 prostitutes in 2005 compared with 293 in 2004. Some 33 different nationalities were encountered, but one-third of the women originated from Eastern Europe.
The Eastern European prostitutes constituted the largest group and most of these came from Bulgaria.
More than a quarter of the police checks led to the repatriation or temporary detainment of a prostitute. In one in 10 cases, the woman was ordered to leave the area. Police also encountered 10 underage youths compared with four in 2004.
The remaining 61 percent of cases saw the prostitute released after a police background check. Just two cases saw the issuing of a court summons.
Thielemans says police registered 66 percent fewer street prostitutes in 2004 compared with 2003.
"In 2005, this trend continued, although the differences per inspection are sometimes quite large," he says.
"It is now a group of a dozen girls. The decline in the number of Bulgarian girls and the relative increase in the girls of Belgian origin is noteworthy."
Thielemans stresses the police crackdown is succeeding.
"We want to primarily combat human smuggling with our operations. The fact that there are fewer Bulgarians working is an indication of success. In 2004, we also arrested 52 pimps," he says.
Despite the city's crackdown on street prostitution, residents still complain that problems around the Royal Flemish Theatre in the Alhambra city district persist.
A spokesman for the Alhambra district committee, Harry Vanbuel, refrained from saying the mayor's figures were incorrect, but nevertheless raised doubts about the city's claim that street prostitution was on the wane.
*quote2*"The nuisance factor has not declined. The carrousel of passing cars remains, whether there are more or fewer prostitutes," he said.
Residents also claim the measures that have already been imposed do not offer a permanent solution. They are urging instead a detailed prostitution plan, similar to that drawn up by the Antwerp City Council.
In Antwerp, city authorities have concentrated all prostitution into three streets and are clamping down strictly on the sex industry elsewhere in the city. One of the city's newest methods is to fine the clients of prostitutes who work outside of the tolerated sex zone.
The Alhambra district committee has suggested that Brussels introduce a similar prostitution zone. Not only would prostitution be concentrated within that zone but other services such as police could also be relocated there.
However, Thielemans is pessimistic about the success of such a plan. "The Antwerp Mayor, Patrick Janssens, has told me himself that the problem of street prostitution remains," he said.
Not to be swayed, Vanbuel has also raised an inkling of doubt about Thielemans' f