Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands. Photo: knowinsiders.
Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands. Photo: knowinsiders.

Prostitution is the practice, business, or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone in exchange for payment. There are an estimated 42 million prostitutes around the world, as worldpopulationreview.com reported.

Prostitution occurs in a variety of forms, and its legality varies from country to country (sometimes even from one state or county to another). This inconsistency reflects the wide range of national opinions that exist on issues surrounding prostitution, including exploitation, gender roles, ethics and morality, freedom of choice, and social norms.

Prostitution is seen as a major issue by many religious groups and feminist activist organizations. Some feminists believe that prostitution harms and exploits women and reinforces stereotypical views about women as sex objects. Other feminists believe that prostitution is a valid choice for women who wish to engage in it.

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Is prostitution legal in Netherlands?

Traditionally, the Netherlands is characterized as one of the most liberal countries in the world. As link.springer.com reported, although the concept of “liberal” is difficult to define, a great number of scholars agree that liberalism means promotion of individual liberty, freedom of choice, and government neutrality in matters of personal morality. The liberal image of the Netherlands is said to be a consequence of the seemingly tolerant attitude of the legislator, judiciary, and authorities toward controversial issues such as drug use, euthanasia, and prostitution.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands as long as it involves sex between consenting adults, as government.nl reported. Abuses like forced prostitution, underage prostitution and unsafe working conditions still occur. To give prostitutes better protection and improve their lives, the government wants to change the rules for businesses in the sex industry. The government also wants to make it a criminal offence to engage the services of a prostitute younger than 21.

Forced prostitution

Forced prostitution is illegal in the Netherlands and is punishable as an offence. Does your client know or suspecs you are forced into prostitution or that you are a victim of human trafficking? Your client is punishable as well.

If you are 18 years of age or older, you are allowed to work as a sex worker in the Netherlands. However, in most cities the legal minimum age to work in prostitution has been raised to 21 years. Make sure to check with your municipality in advance. If you come from a non-EU country, you must hold a valid Dutch residence permit with the status ‘freelance work permitted’.

Prostitution in the Netherlands: Legislation

According to Karin Werkman and feminismandhumanrights.org, on the first of October 2000 the ban on brothels of 1911 was lifted; also the ban on pimping was lifted: the relevant articles have been removed from the Dutch Penal Code.

Sex workers have the same rights, protections and obligations as any worker in the Netherlands. Since 2011, they even pay taxes on their earnings. That’s also the Dutch practical side: if there is a way to tax it…

Jokes aside, women working in prostitution in the Netherlands are also eligible for unemployment and invalidity benefits. As with any other job.

Therewith The Netherlands became the first country in the world that legalised prostitution, that allowed brothels, that recognised sex as work; decriminalised pimps and brothel owners. Note that prostitution itself – that is, the selling of sex has never been prohibited in The Netherlands. Through regulation; creating a licensing system; by educating women about their new legal status; imposing taxes and police checks on brothels. The executive role and administrative responsibility were assigned to the municipal level.

Because of the belief in a distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution; the distinction between prostitution and trafficking; the belief in a pragmatic approach (as opposed to an idealistic or moral approach to prostitution) – pragmatic, in this case: based on the belief that prostitution is inevitable, that it always was and always will be. And so it is better to try making it as pleasant as possible; improve the employment status and working conditions of women; empower them.

Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands
A prostitute waits for clients behind her window in the red light district of Amsterdam on Dec. 8, 2008. (ANOEK DE GROOT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The law

The Dutch being pragmatic as always, decided to legalize brothels. Yes, brothels, because prostitution was actually not a crime as long as it was voluntary. After 2000, it became legal to run a business in which you hire sex workers. As long as you get the license, otherwise it is still not legal since there are some conditions to respect. It was legalized to fight human trafficking and to protect the sex workers. There also were some debates about the legal age to work, which is 18 but the government considered 21. This was dropped because the girls would feel more secure to ask for help if they are not doing something illegal. Very smart Dutchies…

However, as dutchreview.com reported, pimps do face prosecution for hiring someone younger than 21, as well as clients.

With regards to health, medical checkups are not compulsory, because the Dutch government didn’t want to reinforce the idea that sex workers transmit infections. Also, medical checkups can be used as an excuse for unsafe sex, hence why they decided not to make it mandatory. Again: smart. However, the sex workers do have access to medical care which is also facilitated by the government, and they have to do regular checkups. Brothel owners also need to get a health certificate before being able to employ and start a business. And there are several police controls to check if any abuses are happening. Yes, everything is under control.

Punishable forms of exploiting prostitution

Some of the objectives associated with the amendments of the law are concerned with punishable forms of the exploitation of prostitution (involuntary prostitution, prostitution by minors, and prostitution by persons who do not possess the legal residence permit required for employment).

- Non-licensed exploitation

- Illegal labour

- Recruit and force minors

- Exploitation of people

Prostitution in the Netherlands: Main critiques of the current approach

According to "Prostitution Policies in the Netherlands" on lastradainternational.org, the Red Thread, the organisation of prostitutes, notes improvements, but stresses that much more needs to be done to actually improve the position of prostitutes, to innovate the sector and make it more transparent, and to combat abusive working conditions and other abuses. They are, however, not in favour of going back to the situation before 2000: although abuses still occur, the situation was worse before the lifting of the ban on brothels. They consider legalization as a basic condition to improved conditions in the sex industry and make several recommendations for improvement of the current prostitution policies.

Among others they advocate for more national support for the municipalities in developing and enforcing their prostitution policy, a strict enforcement of the Public Administration Probity Screening Act (“BIBOB”), the development of a national Framework Law on prostitution, a national programme to enhance the expertise of local policy makers, the establishment of a special hotline where prostitutes can report abusive and sub standard working conditions, a more generous policy in granting licenses to prostitutes who work independently or in small women run businesses and to operators who respect the current rules on labour conditions, transparency etc., a more active role of the Labour Inspection, better information for sex workers and a more active policy of municipalities in supporting prostitutes who want to change work. They firmly reject criminalization of clients, as this would unnecessarily put prostitutes at risk.

This critique is widely supported. In general, much attention has been paid to the regulation and control of prostitution businesses through the introduction of licensing systems, as well as to the combat of trafficking and other forms of involuntary prostitution.

However, far less attention has been paid to the improvement of the position of prostitutes, such as measures to inform them about their rights and support them in claiming those rights, and create opportunities for them to start their own businesses as collectives or independent entrepreneurs. Also, the introduction of the licensing system has not sufficiently taken into account the interests of the prostitutes, for example in protecting their anonymity and privacy. For many prostitutes this is a reason to prefer working in the un-licensed sector (e.g. the escort of home based prostitution).

Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands
The Red Light District Amsterdam famous street. Photo: toursinamsterdam.com.

Moreover, the feeling in the prostitution sector is that licensed businesses are inspected more often than non-licensed businesses. This situation undermines the willingness of operators of licensed businesses to adhere to the rules and complicates combating human trafficking.

The policy is predominantly directed at the sex businesses, whereas it becomes increasingly clear that much of the coercion is exerted by pimps who operate at the background. These are much more difficult to target (see above).

Another point of critique are the effects of the lifting of the ban on brothels on the position of undocumented migrant prostitutes. Non-EU migrants are by law excluded from legally working in the sex sector. Prostitution is the only kind of work for which a legal prohibition on the issue of working permits exists. Thus migrant prostitutes are per definition forced to work in the illegal and unprotected sector. NGOs question how the categorical exclusion of migrant prostitutes from the legal sex sector and its related (labour law) protection relates to the obligations under article 11 of CEDAW (equal treatment in employment), given the fact predominantly women work in the sex sector.

Shadow report by Dutch NGOs: an examination of the Fourth Report by the Government of the Netherlands on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 2000-2004, on behalf of NJCM (Dutch Section of the International Commission of Jurists) and Network VN-Vrouwenverdrag (CEDAW Network), Utrecht: HOM 2006.

Others question the liberal prostitution policy of the Netherlands as such and feel that much more energy should be invested in discouraging men to make use of the services of prostitutes. They oppose the notion of voluntary prostitution and consider all prostitution as damaging for women/ sexual violence. This does not necessarily mean that they want to go back to the situation before 2000, rather they advocate to invest much more energy in policies to reduce demand and in exit programmes for women.

Prostitution in the Netherlands: What is the Amsterdam Red Light district and how does it work?

For decades, Amsterdam’s red-light district has lured millions of tourists, sex workers, and business owners. Yet the infamous alleys of the De Wallen neighborhood—lined with coffee shops and windows featuring scantily clad sex workers—could soon face a transformation as local government officials strive to implement a new policy, set to increase the number of sex-work permits beyond De Wallen in an attempt to provide sex workers with opportunities elsewhere, as foreignpolicy.com reported.

We’re aware that there’s quite a bit of mystery on this specific part of Amsterdam, so let us explain you a bit more and answer some of the most frequently asked questions. The Amsterdam Red Light District is not an attraction. It doesn’t have an entrance or an exit, but it’s simply a small neighboorhood. It basically consists of two canals and some connecting alleys. In the area, you’ll find a lot of 18+ entertainment, sex shows, sex shops and brothels in the form of windows. Apart from that, you’ll find a lot of restaurants, bars and hotels. The area draws lots of visitors who are curious to experience the neighbourhood first hand.

The area is always freely accessible as it’s just a neighbourhood on public roads. It does not close at a certain time. However, if you’re looking to use the services of a sex worker, you’re best off being there before 4:00 am when the windows start closing. The women that work there, work independently so can stop whenever they like, as thingstodoinamsterdam.com reported.

The heart of the area is formed by two streets, or canals: Oude Zijdsvoorburgwal and Oude Zijdsachterburgwal. The connecting alleys and surrounding streets are officially part of the Red Light District as well. The area is safe both day and night time. The only real threat in the area is pickpocketing. Due to the area being crowded with tourists and a lot of distraction, the area is very popular among pickpockets.

Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands
Amsterdam peep show. Photo: toursinamsterdam.com.

How to order

If you want to make use of a sex workers’ service, simply walk up to the window to indicate that you’re interested. They will open the door for you, so you can discuss your wishes. Treat the person behind the window with respect, like you’d like to be treated. Remember; the workers have the right to refuse clients, don’t take this personal, maybe you simply look like a relative. If you agree on the kind of service and the price, you’ll be let in. You must pay cash up front, so make sure you have the right amount on you.

What are the prices

There’s no such thing as an entrance fee, as the area is publicly accessible. The sex workers are free to set their own prices, based on the clients wishes. However, to give you an indication; in most brothels, the tariffs start at €50,- for a short (10-15 minutes), basic service. If you have specific wishes or need more time you’ll most often be charged extra. Do keep in mind, that this information is purely indicative and that the sex workers can set their own rules and tariffs.

Rules and age restriction

First of all, be respectful to the neighbourhood and the people living and working there. Below, you’ll find a full list of do’s and don’ts. About the age restriction; there’s no age restriction for the area itself as it’s publically accessible. However, we feel that you should question yourself whether it’s really necessary to take minors to window area; the Red Light District and sex workers are already under a lot of pressure of growing tourism. The workers are there to make money and it doesn’t really help to have families staring at their customers, if you go for educational purposes, visit the Prostitution Information Center or Red Light Secrets museum of prostitution. For the shows, shops and brothels, of course, an age restriction of 18 years and over applies.

Protected by security

All window brothels in Amsterdam – and the rest of country – are well protected by security-systems. The window brothels have panic buttons on the inside. In addition, there are always cameras installed on the outside of the window brothel that are monitored by the operators.

When a sex worker would press the panic button, a loud alarm would sound. The people on the street are then alarmed. An alarm also goes off at the brothel keeper and the police. Good security is one of the reasons why so many (foreign) sex workers want to work here. A local agent of the Red Light District Amsterdam stated in Amsterdam Audio Tours app that there are 50 police cameras in this neighborhood. These cameras are monitored 24/7 by the police making the area safer.

Clients in Amsterdam are regularly rejected by prostitutes at the window. Sex workers do not need or want to accept all clients. After all, they are their own boss.

Prostitution in the Netherlands: Frequently Asked Questions

Am I allowed to work as a prostitute in the Netherlands?

You may work as a prostitute in the Netherlands if you are over the age of 18. You must also satisfy a number of conditions, which depend on your country of origin.

Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands
The Red Light District Amsterdam also has a three streets where transgender prostitutes work. They often use blue lights instead of red lights. Photo: toursinamsterdam.com.

How Many Red Light Districts Are There In Amsterdam?

There are 3 prostitution areas in Amsterdam, as toursinamsterdam.com reported.

-The largest & most famous is ‘De Wallen‘ – also known as Red Light District Amsterdam.

-Another area is located on the Ruysdaelskade where there are about 40 window brothels.

-The third area with window brothels is located around the Singel and Spuistraat. Also this area has about 40 windows.

How Much Does It Cost To Rent A Window?

Prostitutes in the Red Light District Amsterdam pay rent to the window brothel operators. 80 to 100 euro in the daytime and 150 to 180 euro in the nighttime. This is a fixed price that the sex workers have to pay in advance after they have presented all their documents to the operator. Window workers are independent entrepreneurs who may charge their own prices. They do not have to pay commissions to the window brothels operators.

Amsterdam prostitutes in the Red Light District usually charge a minimum of 50 euro per 15/20 minutes. There are no fixed prices. Negotiations with the customers take place in front of the entrance of the window brothel. Average prices are between 50 and 100 euros – depending on the service, time and friendliness of the customer. Some clients are willing to paying (much) more for specific erotic services.

Is It Legal To Take Pictures From Prostitutes?

Most sex workers in Amsterdam – and elsewhere in the world – lead a double life. Their family and friends often do not know what their profession is. This is caused by stigma, expectations and/or shame. They do not want to be photographed because of their double life.

In the Red Light District Amsterdam it is not officially forbidden to photograph sex workers, but it is considered very disrespectful and rude. Sex workers often take their own measures to counter this. There are stickers on the window brothels stating that they do not want to be photographed. Sometimes the prostitutes open the door and throws someone’s phone on the floor when they take pictures.

How Does This Neighborhood Stay Relatively Safe?

Many people don’t realise this, but one of the most important aspects that makes this neighbourhood so safe is social control. The many people on the streets, the local residents, the entrepreneurs, the employees. Together they make this a safe neighborhood because there is a lot of activity. The mixed cohesion of organizations, homes and good accessibility in the middle of the city offer safety through social control. For example, if something bad happened at a window brothel, everyone would witness it.

Where Prostitution Is Legal In Netherlands
One of the 14 coffeeshops in Red Light District Amsterdam. Photo: toursinamsterdam.com.

Are There Any Adult Shows?

The Red Light District Amsterdam is known for its tantalising entertainment. It counts seven sex shows that can be visited by anybody from the age of 18.

The most famous sex show is definitely Casa Rosso Amsterdam. Everybody in Holland knows it. It’s part of the Dutch city for over 50 years. This venue is located on the main street of the Red Light District. It offers 60 to 80 minute sex shows, including live sex one stage. The show is exciting, fun & unforgettable. Casa Rosso is very popular. It’s something that can only be experienced here in Amsterdam. But that’s not all. There are even more Amsterdam sex shows. There is also a Moulin Rouge, a 5D Porn Cinema and even a peep show.

Are Cars Allowed To Go Here?

You won’t find many cars in the Red Light District Amsterdam. The local government has made this neighborhood car-free for several years. The main streets – such as Warmoesstraat – in the area are only accessible to residents and delivery staff. Parking on the street is quite difficult. There are just a few parking spaces.

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