Mission & Vision
UTSOPI is the Belgian Union of Sex Workers. We are governed by sex workers and run together with allies. We strive for agency, autonomy and rights. More rights means more choices. We strive for independence: the independence of our choices, our bodies, our lives.
UTSOPI defends the interests of all sex workers in Belgium
Regardless of their origin, age, gender identity, residence status, the reasons why they perform the activity, how often they work or what kind of sex work they do.
A seat at the table
Our organization demands a seat at every table where decisions are made that could impact the lives and work conditions of sex workers. When people are truly serious about the protection and the rights of sex workers, they make sure to listen to them. Defending the rights of the most vulnerable sex workers is given absolute priority.
UTSOPI demands the elimination of all violence on sex workers
That means physical violence, as well as psychological violence. Violence includes coercion and deception, abuse of power, social stigma, discrimination and disadvantage under the law
Sex workers, like any other person, are entitled to protection under the law
With a few exceptions, sex workers' human rights are grossly violated worldwide. Countries like the U.S., France and Sweden take the crown. Our organization demands an immediate end to these human rights violations.
Freedom of choice and self-determination are central to our struggle
Limited rights create less choice, more dependency and a significantly greater risk of violence, exploitation and human trafficking. More rights lead to more autonomous choices. The choice to get out of the activity becomes easier this way.
UTSOPI fights against exploitation and human trafficking
Sex workers should be able to live their lives with freedom and independence. Sex work is work, but those who are forced into it by others are victims of trafficking. Sex work is part of the solution, not the problem. It is sex workers, with their experience and presence in the field, who can most quickly identify and signal cases of violence, exploitation and trafficking.
UTSOPI vehemently opposes the Swedish model
The Swedish model refuses to distinguish between sex work and human trafficking and criminalizes the client. The model eliminates any legal protection for sex workers and creates an underground market. Under the radar, sex workers are at higher risk of coercion, violence and exploitation. Under the radar, sex workers and victims of trafficking are beyond the reach of police and emergency services. The model goes against all available scientific data and, as indicated by UNAIDS and others, is a violation of the human rights of sex workers and those of trafficking victims.
It is imperative that sex work be recognized as work
Not because it is a job like any other, but because sex workers, like everyone else, deserve legal protection while working. Anyone who opposes this is not sincere about the safety and health of sex workers.
An intersectional struggle
In almost all cases, the stigma against sex workers is combined with other forms of discrimination: such as discrimination based on origin, social class, sexual orientation and gender identity. Therefore, our mission cannot be separated from the feminist struggle, the fight against inequality and the fight against racism.
The history of UTSOPI
Our organization came into being in the summer of 2015. On the initiative of Luca Stevenson (ESWA), five sex workers met at the home of Sonia Verstappen, a longtime sex workers’ rights activist. Among them was Maxime Maes, an experienced sex workers’ rights activist as well. There was the idea to create a collective, but that night it remained far-off and vague. Our first intention was to meet between sex workers, to be together, to talk to each other, because most of the time our families and friends didn't really understand the challenges, problems and feelings associated with sex work. We also wanted to share our experiences of activism. Maxime, Sonia and a third sex worker, Marie, stayed in touch.
At the end of 2015, the mayor of Saint-Josse, a Brussels municipality that governs part of Brussels' red light district, tried to keep to his election promise of expelling window sex work from his district. Marie, who had been working for decades in the district, sollicited the help of the others to support her and her colleagues. Other activists joined: Julie, Yumi and many others, with the clear project in mind of founding the first sex worker collective in Belgium. We held our first press conference on December 15, 2015, which was attended by a large part of the Belgian media. At this event we officially became an activist collective. The fight against the mayor turned us into a local community organization with the political objective to improve the working and living conditions of sex workers and fight stigmatization.
In 2017, we took the next step: we registered as an association with a social purpose, entitling us to government subsidies. Soon after, in 2018, the first funding arrived, we hired our first employee and took the first steps to establish a new chapter of Utsopi in the Flemish region, starting with Ghent and Antwerp. Membership continued to grow, as did political support.
In 2020, UTSOPI gained national recognition for its efforts to help sex workers during the Covid pandemic. Thanks to extensive media coverage, the way was paved for the next big goal, namely the decriminalization of sex work. We achieved this in 2022, after two years of intense political struggle.
FAQ about UTSOPI
As a young organisation with no certainty of future funding, we unfortunately have to constantly fight for our survival. Without donations, we would not be able to survive. Your generosity is very important to us.
At the same time, we are constantly looking for motivated volunteers, especially for graphic design and translations. Finally, we count on sex workers to join UTSOPI and play an active role in our organisation, be it politically, creatively or organisationally.
We propose two different forms of membership: you can become a supporting member or an active member. When you become a member, it goes without saying that you support the mission and vision of the organisation.
Join the mailing list and receive news, organization updates and invitations to manifestations, informal meetings, workshops and task forces.
- Are expected to take an active role in organizing events.
- Can be asked to represent the organization occasionally at events.
- Can be referred to by UTSOPI at the request of journalists, writers and film makers.
- Are expected, if possible, to take an active role in responding to legal or administrative questions from other sex workers.
- Can be asked to read and check organization documents before publication.
- Are expected to be present at the General Assembly of the organization, where the annual report anAd the financial report are voted and where the new Board is elected. Active members have voting rights in our organization.
- Can be candidates for the Board.
- Can propose activities and get organizational, financial or other support in carrying them out.
Through this form you can let us know you want to become a member.
UTSOPI defends the rights of sex workers in Belgium. We do this first and foremost through our political work, by weighing in on any decision that will affect the lives and working conditions of sex workers.
In addition, UTSOPI wishes to adjust the prevailing image of sex workers: away from stereotypes, away from clichés. Laws aimed at ending discrimination against sex workers will count for little if sex workers continue to be looked down upon. This must change. We do this by working with journalists, scriptwriters, writers, directors. We provide training in schools, at the police, the PCSW and other services that often come into contact with sex workers.
Finally, we want to bring sex workers together in a safe place. Monthly events go on in different places around the country where sex workers can get to know each other, talk freely and learn from each other.