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Prostitution in the Netherlands

Updated: Oct 24, 2022


Prostitution was defined as a legal profession in January 1988.

Brothel prohibition made it difficult to set rules for the sex industry. During the eighties many municipalities urged the national government to lift the ban on brothels. In 1983 minister Korthals Altes had presented an amendment to the law on prostitution. It took until 1 October 2000 for brothels to leave the half-legal status of being tolerated and to become fully legal and licensed businesses. Prostitutes may work as regular employees, though the vast majority work as independent contractors.

The Dutch union FNV has accepted prostitutes as members since that time.

In the 1990s, Dutch attitudes supported the legalization of prostitution: in a 1997 survey, 73 percent of Dutch citizens favored legalization of brothels, 74 percent said that prostitution was an "acceptable job", and in a 1999 poll 78 percent felt that prostitution is a job like any other job.

21st century: reducing the size of the Red-light district

When the Dutch government legalized prostitution in 2000, it was to protect the women by giving them work permits, but authorities now fear that this business is out of control: "We've realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but those big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings, and other criminal activities", said Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam.

More recently, officials have noticed an increase in violence centered on this irregular industry, and have blamed this increase on the illegal immigration of individuals into Amsterdam to participate in the sex industry: "The guys from Eastern Europe bring in young and frightened women; they threaten them and beat them", said a resident of De Wallen.[8] Prostitution has remained connected to criminal activities, which has led the authorities to take several measures, including detailed plans to help the prostitutes quit the sex trade and find other professions.

In 2005 Amma Asante and Karina Schaapman, two councilors for the Labour Party (Netherlands), wrote a report, "Het onzichtbare zichtbaar gemaakt" (Making the Invisible Visible). Schaapman had once been a prostitute and was getting information about the influx of organized crime and violence into the business. Other reports came out around the same time. They concluded that a large number of prostitutes in Amsterdam were being forced to work and were being abused by pimps and criminal gangs, and that the goals of legalization were failing.

Glass doors to rooms rented by prostitutes at De Wallen.

In response to the problems associated with the involvement of organized crime into the sex trade, the Dutch government has decided to close numerous prostitution businesses. Concerned about organized crime, money laundering, and human trafficking, Amsterdam officials under Mayor Cohen denied the license renewals of about 30 brothels in the Amsterdam Red-light district De Wallen in 2006; the brothel owners appealed. To counter negative news reports, the district organized an open house day in 2007 and a statue to an unknown sex worker was unveiled, "intended to honor those employed in the industry world-wide. In September 2007 it was announced that the city of Amsterdam was buying several buildings in the Red-light district from Charles Geerts in order to close about a third of the windows.

At the end of 2008, Mayor Cohen announced plans to close half of the city's 400 prostitution windows because of suspected criminal gang activity. The mayor is also closing some of the city's 70 marijuana cafes and sex clubs.This comes at the same time as the Government's decision to ban the sale of "magic mushrooms" and the closure of all coffee shops situated near schools. Nevertheless, Mayor Cohen has noted, "It is not that we want to get rid of our Red-light district. We want to reduce it. Things have become unbalanced and if we do not act we will never regain control.

In 2009 the Dutch justice ministry announced the appointment of a special public prosecutor charged with closing down prostitution windows and coffee shops connected to organized crime syndicates.

A law proposal was introduced in the House of Representatives of the Netherlands in 2009 and amended in 2010 which would ban prostitution by people younger than 21. Prostitutes are required to register; they receive a registration pass with a photograph and a registration number, but no name or other personal data. Clients are required to check this pass. In addition to municipal rules a national rule is introduced requiring sex companies to have a license, including prostitution companies such as brothels and escort agencies, but also, for example, adult movie theaters. Under the proposed amendments, an advertisement of an individual prostitute should contain his or her registration number, an advertisement of a sex company should contain its license number. The premises for public access of a sex company (if any) should have on the outside a sign showing that the company is licensed, while inside a copy of the license has to be displayed. A vote on the law has been deferred to allow both sides to examine the matter more closely.

The 70-year-old twin sisters Louise and Martine Fokkens, who have worked for decades as prostitutes in the Red-light districts of Amsterdam, were the subject of a 2011 film and a 2012 book. In a 2012 interview, they complained that the legalisation of 2000 had led to more criminality and to the taxation of the trade.

Ban on prostitution during Coronavirus pandemic :

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all legally operating brothels in the Netherlands were closed on 15 March 2020, based on emergency orders per police district. The closing order caught some customers in the middle of their act. Since the Dutch government has failed to provide financial compensation for sex workers (especially those who have always paid taxes through the 'opting-in'-system, designed because sex workers cannot be employees obeying a boss), many of them were forced to continue to work, turning to the somewhat shady business of illegal home-based prostitution.

As the Netherlands went into a semi lock-down, questions were raised in Dutch parliament about sex workers who had to continue to work to pay their bills, or even buy food. Christian politicians claimed they wanted to help women to escape from exploitation, but sex workers' unions angrily responded that they don't want to be 'saved' by people who would like to forbid prostitution again. Representatives of sex workers complain that politicians talk about them, rather than talking with them, which leads to wrong decisions, based on the loudest voices, instead of listening to experienced sex workers.

Sex workers from licensed brothels who have paid taxes for many years feel betrayed by the Dutch government as many millions of support money have been distributed to companies and independent workers to keep the economy afloat, but sex workers did not match the rules for compensation, unless they had officially registered as an independent worker. Many sex workers in the Netherlands have complained that they cannot pay for food or rent anymore. Brothel owners fear that many sex workers will turn their backs on legally operating brothels for good and will continue to work in the darkness of illegal places in residential areas, where they will remain anonymous.

According to a road map for relaxing of anti-Corona-measures taken by the Dutch government, the reopening of brothels in the Netherlands was supposed to take place in September 2020. In a later press conference, on 24 June 2020, with prime minister Mark Rutte and minister of public health Hugo de Jonge, it was announced that prostitution will be made legal again in the Netherlands starting 1 July 2020. Since Belgium lifted the ban on prostitution from 8 June 2020 and since the Belgian border reopened on 15 June 2020, both sex workers and customers had started travelling to their southern neighbour Belgium.

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