Decoration of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Madonna, Bochum

What about the prostitutions? (Hoe moet het nu met de prostituties?) was one of the question foreign journalists asked the Red Thread when in 2000 the ban on brothels was lifted. Many people are still in the dark about what was the lifting of the ban on brothels about. Even an English quality paper like The Guardian gives false information on this subject. In its copy of December, 11, 2013 it writes ‘Prostitution, pimping and brothel keeping has been legal and regulated since 2000’. This one sentence contains three mistakes.

  1. Prostitution has not been forbidden in the Netherlands since the days of Napoleon, so long before the year 2000.
  2. Pimping (extorting money from sex workers by means of violence and force) has been and still is forbidden since the late middle ages in the Netherlands.
  3. Before 2000 brothel keeping was regulated. After the ban on brothel keeping came into force in 1911, it turned out that prostitution could not be eradicated so the Dutch opted for a ‘regulated tolerance’.

On a national level brothel keeping was decriminalized, it became subject to laws that apply to all businesses. There was no new law, but an old and ineffective law was abolished, with the result that sex businesses had to obey to the same rules as any other businesses. How this was regulated was left to the municipalities. And that meant a transition to another regime: the regulatory regime. Most municipalities issued regulations for sex businesses. So, after 2000 the Dutch made new regulations as to e.g. where in towns and villages sex businesses could be established.

People tend to identify regulation with legalization. Legalization however, is a confusing concept; it just means that prostitution is allowed under certain conditions. It has always been quite common to say that in the United States only in the state of Nevada prostitution is ‘legalized’. In practice, this means that sex work is allowed provided sex workers agree to what I consider an illegal infringement of their right of free movement. They are for instance only allowed to shop and eat in a restaurant between 7.00 o’clock AM and 19.00 hours PM. When they are employed by a brothel they are not allowed to attend games or dances in their spare time. When they have their holidays, they must leave town. When a sex worker wants to go to a post office she must report this to the brothel owner and agree to be back before four o’clock in the afternoon. Male sex workers are not allowed on the premises of the ‘legalized’, which is a clear case of gender discrimination. (Weitzer, 2000)

As said before in the Netherlands the decriminalization took place on a national level, but was replaced by regulation on a municipal level. Since 2008 the municipalities demand more powers to control sex workers. They urged for instance to introduce a registration system of sex workers, with the excuse to prevent traffic in women. But they also want an uniform licensing system. Due to resistance of organizations of sex workers and their advocates, this law has as yet (June 2017) passed the Dutch Senate.

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Sietske Altink