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In Belgium, policies regarding sex work and prostitution are decided at the local, rather than national, level. Both districts are host to window prostitution, which Ronald Weitzer calls a hybrid of indoor and outdoor prostitution, visible from the street but conducted within a building. The red-light district of Brussels is located in one of the poorest areas of the city, a neighborhood characterized by graffiti, litter, abandoned buildings and broken windows. There is a limited police presence in the area which is instead largely under the control of pimps and madams.
The sex workers keep about half their earnings and they work closely with madams who rent the rooms from the owner. Beyond being just a general presence, madams deal with payment, notify workers when time is up and deal with unruly clients. The women work hour shifts, often sharing the window rooms with a few other women, all of whom live outside the district. Unlike in other cities, the windows in these rooms do not open. Clients drive slowly down the street, looking at the women in the windows and communicating nonverbally.
Once they settle on a worker to engage with, the client enters the room, gives the woman payment and a tip for the madam and has a minute sexual encounter. Unlike those in Antwerp, the rooms in most Brussels RLD are separated merely by a curtain, rather than a wall, preventing emotional connections and in some ways, keeping the women safer. While this has reduced a significant amount of crime, pimps do still exist in the Antwerp RLD. The district is restricted to pedestrians and is kept clean and quiet, partially because of police surveillance though the police station itself is usually unstaffed and is primarily symbolic.
The women work closely together without madams in single-occupancy rooms without bars or couches. The brothel, designed with consultation from a committee of prostitutes, boasts biometric technology, room sensors, and elaborate lighting. Maes and other prostitutes say they appreciate the high-tech security. In case of trouble from clients, she can press a panic button next to her bed, which calls police and triggers a red flashing light in the brothel's control room.
Maes, a mother of two, who says she turned to prostitution from waitressing because it is lucrative and offers flexible hours. Maes agreed to three rounds of biometric fingerprinting and handed over her passport to police. Yet, Bilefsky later shares the story of a prostitute who was badly beaten by a pimp while working inside the zone, and was too scared to file a complaint.