SEATTLE, Washington — When considering sex work from a women’s empowerment angle as opposed to one of oppression, there is evidence that legalizing prostitution can have individual and economical benefits. Prostitution in the Netherlands has been operating under a successful regulated system for nearly two decades. The regulatory practices that limit sex behavior are critical in understanding the way in which different societies view sex and sexual activity and understanding the benefits of legalizing prostitution.
Not only is prostitution guaranteed on the basis of societal structure but the decision by women to enter the sex industry is not often made lightly. Poverty, homelessness, gender inequality and sex discrimination are all issues that can drive women to become sex workers. Poverty can be a significant factor that forces women into prostitution to survive. From an economic standpoint, prostitution is considered logical because it can afford a better living than would be possible with any other legal alternative depending on an individual’s qualifications and education level.
Prostitution in the Netherlands
Prior to the early 20th century, the Netherlands had abolished prostitution through national legislation. Anyone involved was criminalized. Public opinion and implementation have gradually become more lenient, giving rise to a more accepting attitude towards prostitution as a way of life. The tension between national law and local policy created an increasingly conflicting system. This eventually led to the passing of a Bill in 1983 that gave municipal enforcement the authority to regulate prostitution.
As a result, prostitution was more largely considered to be legitimate work rather than criminal activity. In order to further protect the rights of these workers, the Dutch government took a realistic and open-minded approach and passed another Bill in 2000 that abolished the ban on brothels. This also gave sex workers the same status as other workers, including taxed income and access to the social security system. Brothels were legalized under the condition that they did not hinder public life.
This new law in the Netherlands has decriminalized both workers and businesses in the sex industry. Local authorities supervise the conditions under which prostitution is permissible. Normalization of the industry implements mandated health and safety regulations such as running water, access to condoms and fire escapes. Even more importantly, these reforms permit prostitutes full legal, social and worker rights that meet many, but not all of the demands of sex worker organizations to work under legal and satisfactory conditions.
The Benefits of Legalizing Prostitution
The benefits of legalizing prostitution extend further than to just those involved in the sex industry. Allowing brothels to operate legally and publicly generates substantial revenue for the state as well. The situation for many sex workers in the Netherlands has vastly improved since the implementation of new reforms and regulations. The legalization of sex work enforces compliance with labor laws by businesses in the sex work industry.
In this way, the Netherlands has successfully reduced the number of people at risk of forced prostitution and human trafficking. The Netherlands enforces harsh punishments for anyone aiding in human trafficking with up to 18 years in prison. Although this hasn’t rid the country entirely of forced prostitution, it has become significantly easier to regulate the illegal exploitation of minors. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that sex work can only be performed legally by someone over the age of 21.
Researchers estimate there are as many as 31,000 people in the legal sex work industry in the Netherlands. There are still issues regarding the living conditions of illegal prostitutes, but as for those with residency papers, lives have improved drastically. The Dutch government conducted a study on the quality of life of sex workers in the early 2000s and found there were improvements in multiple categories from 2002 to 2007. Proven benefits of legalizing prostitution include mental and physical healthcare (including STI prevention care), safer and more accessible ways of reporting violence and abuse as well as improved infrastructure and working conditions.
Support From Amnesty International
In 2015, Amnesty International began a campaign to create policies for the protection of the human rights of sex workers. Secretary-General Salil Shetty’s issued a statement where she said, “Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world, who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.” The decision to move forward with this campaign came after significant research with organizations such as UNAIDS, U.N. Women, WHO and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.
Growing support for women’s rights as workers is an important step for the stability and protection of prostitutes. The Netherlands is just one example of a successful regulatory system in which prostitution is legalized and health and safety standards are applied. This type of public sex policy allows the government to enforce codes and regulations that are beneficial to both the worker and the client. Legalization does not have to mean public approval of prostitution practices, but it does ensure sex workers a decent living and a safer work environment. The overall benefits of legalizing prostitution are considerable and could prove an asset in the fight to end global poverty.
– Helen Schwie