Amendments to the public nuisance laws in Serbia, known as “Public Law and Order” laws, increased penalties for sex work related offences. Anti-sex work campaigners pushed the government to introduce amendments that would also punish the clients of sex workers. The new laws punishes everyone who disturbs ‘public order and peace’ including noisy neighbours, panhandling, burning pyrotechnic products, organising gambling, etc.
If arrested, both clients and sex workers are punished with up to 60 days in prison or fines up to 150 000 RSD (approximately 1300 EUR). The unemployment rate in Serbia is 19.3 percent and the average net salary is 43 925 RSD per month (approximately 353 EUR). For some people, sex work is the only viable option to provide for themselves and their families.
Previously selling sex was illegal in Serbia but buying sex was not.
The Serbian sex workers’ rights organisation Sloboda Prava, organised a press-conference on the 3rd of March, International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, in Belgrade. This was the first time Sloboda Prava hosted an event on the 3rd of March.
At the event, the sex worker community presented on the harms of these new amendments. Some sex workers spoke of their own experiences of violence, discrimination and structural violence.
“Sex work is work, as long as it is done in agreement between the adults who provide sexual services and those who use the services provided. The prohibition of sex work is the crudest violation of human rights guaranteed by the UN Declaration, which gives to each individual the right to work and the right to free choice of employment,” said Mario Knezevic from Sloboda Prava.
“We drew attention of mainstream media, but sadly there were no representatives of human rights organisations nor feminist organisation except for ASTRA and Gayten LGBT who endorse decriminalisation of sex work. There were no questions from media sadly, but they got what we wanted during interviews,“ said a representative of Sloboda Prava.
The recent amendments to the laws on “Public Law and Order” regarding sex work have led to an even greater threat to the human rights of sex workers. In addition to fines, sex workers are almost always punished and sentenced to prison, which happens even if the police do not catch them while working. If the police suspects someone of being a sex worker, or if someone is known to be a sex worker by the police, they will arrest them even if they are not working.