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Sex Workers in Portugal Welcome New Constitutional Court Ruling
In early May, Portugal’s Constitutional Court declared the criminalisation of some third parties involved in sex work to be unconstitutional. Under current law in Portugal any form of organised sex work is prohibited, including brothel-keeping. Profiting from, promoting, encouraging or facilitating ‘prostitution’ are also criminal offences, and this also affects sex workers’ ability to work together and work safely.
The Court’s verdict relates to a case from 2014, when the National Republican Guard investigated a bar in Valpaços. Six women were arrested for allegedly conducting sex work on the property and the owner of the bar was arrested for “encouraging the prostitution of six women”. The court proceedings, which have been ongoing since 2014, did not find that the women were forced into sex work by third parties, but engaged in sex work themselves “according to their own will”.
The Constitutional Court judges agreed with the court’s reasoning, stating that “a person’s decision to engage in ‘prostitution’ can constitute a full expression of sexual freedom”.
Movimento dxs Trabalhadorxs do Sexo (MTS), a sex worker-led organisation based in Portugal, welcomed the decision.
“Movimento dxs Trabalhadorxs do Sexo (MTS) welcomes the new ruling of the Constitutional Court, which reopens the discussion on the decriminalisation of simple pimping by stating that ‘the decision of a person to engage in prostitution may constitute a full expression of their sexual freedom’. And that, in the case of adults acting of their own free will, it goes against the fundamental law to criminalise those who encourage, facilitate or favour such practices in order to obtain profit.
As the law stands, a sex worker who gives her female colleagues a lift from her home to the point where they sell sexual services can be charged with simple pimping. The same goes for one who rents a flat she uses to work with others, even if they share expenses.
Many people who work for others do so because they lack the means to be self-employed. Basically, we are talking about the right to work in the way one considers most advantageous. This should not be criminalised. There has to be a clear distinction between human trafficking, sexual exploitation and sex work, the latter understood as sexual services provided by adults in a free, consented way.
Under the current legal framework, even the right of association is compromised. MTS has not managed to legalise itself as a civil society organisation – the collective exists as a project of the Experience Sharing Group. As sex work is not recognised as work, we cannot form associations. It is unacceptable that there is a sector of the population prevented from self-organising even from an associative point of view.”
The impact of the Constitutional Court decision is yet to be seen, but Movimento dxs Trabalhadorxs do Sexo believe it will take more than this ruling to make a change.
“We have the conviction that it will not be by judicial decision that change will be made, that this issue needs a political decision. A political solution may shorten the time needed to make the change in the Penal Code that the pandemic has shown to be urgent.”
Submitted by NSWP on 19th May 2023