When did Holland legalize prostitution?
Often people talk about the legalization of prostitution in Holland, which according to them happened in 2000. And even though I also say that sometimes, not to confuse things for my readers, that's not entirely true. In fact, the only thing that really happened in 2000, was that they lifted the brothel ban.
But even before 2000, when brothels were officially not legal according to the law, prostitution was already legal. In fact, doing some research about when prostitution was legalized takes us back more than 200 years ago.

So let's dive a little bit into history and see where it all began. Looking into history, it teaches us that prostitution in Holland wasn't illegal for hundreds of years, until 1570 when it became illegal. But when the French conquered Holland in 1809, they replaced that with new regulation which didn't make prostitution illegal anymore, but more strictly regulated brothels.
After the French left Holland in 1811, the country was divided on what to do with it. Some cities decided to continue with the model the French had introduced, other cities decided to do things their own way. But prostitution itself was not illegal anymore since that time.

In 1889 cities gradually started introducing brothel bans, which eventually led to a nation wide brothel ban in 1911. Even though there was a ban on brothels, most cities decided to close their eyes at times, and by the 1970's cities openly admitted that they were simply allowing it to happen, in places they determined, because it was 'necessary'.
In 1981 there were several initiatives to lift the brothel ban. Because even though prostitution was not illegal, it would allow prostitutes to work in safer environments, and to control those environments with legislation. The lifting of the brothel ban finally happened in 2000, meaning that brothels were now officially legal, while prostitution had already been legal since 1809.

People often say that prostitution was legalized with the lifting of the brothel ban in 2000. But that's not true at all. Prostitution has for more than 200 years been legal in Holland, but nearly became regulated with the lifting of the brothel ban. The idea behind lifting this ban was a very simple one. Prostitution is going to happen one way or the other. So you can pretend not to notice it, and turn your head away from things, but that just means you're also closing your eyes towards all the crimes happening in this industry. Or, you can allow it to happen, try to regulate it, and at least you have some control over what is going on, and you can protect the sex workers better, because they don't have to hide from authorities.

I always have to laugh a little bit when I see people write that the legalization of prostitution in Holland in 2000 has failed. Because actually also before that time prostitution was already legal, meaning these people aren't even correctly informed. The only thing they legalized were back than were the brothels and not prostitution itself which was already legal since 1809. And think about it, what is a better situation for sex workers or a victim of trafficking for that matter? One in where they have to work in the street and the cold in unsafe conditions? Or one where they can work safely inside, even have an alarm button for the police to respond to and were social workers can help victims? But most importantly, one place where everyone knows that it's happening and authorities can find them?
The good thing about legalizing brothels, is that you know where it's happening, so you can control and supervise it easier. Police can come in and check things, and prostitutes and their clients won't run away because it's legal. In short, if there are any problems regarding any abuses, coercion or human trafficking, you can get a quicker insight into these issues if the industry is legal and therefore visible, as opposed to when it's illegal and therefore invisible.

And recently the Dutch government did research on the situation sex workers in Holland. The conclusion of the report was that if any abuses occur, they are more likely to occur in illegal prostitution (prostitution happening without a legal permit) rather than the legalized part. In short, apparently the legalization of brothels does work and improve safety for sex workers in licensed brothels, and it does help to fight abuses. However, as also the research stated, since the coming of the internet and the closure of licensed brothels (40% has been closed down since the brothel ban was lifted), a part of the sex workers have moved into illegal prostitution since we have lost 40% of the legal work spaces, forcing them into illegal prostitution, which is were abuses are more likely to take place. Which begs the question for example why Amsterdam is closing down legal brothels, while according to the government it's much safer for sex workers over there than having to work illegal.

In short, legalizing prostitution and brothels do improve safety for sex workers. No, it's not perfect, but there's no such thing as a perfect world without crime. There is no industry in the world that is without crime, and prostitution is no exception to that. However, by legalizing prostitution and brothels, you can keep a closer eye on things, and abuses do get reduced, improving the safety for sex workers. Perhaps this is also why the researchers of the government found no evidence or signals of minors or illegal prostitutes (prostitutes working without legal papers) in the licensed prostitution.

No, prostitution wasn't legalized in 2000, but already back in 1809. It was the brothel ban that was lifted in 2000, which has created a safer working environment for sex workers who work in these legalized brothels. No minors, no women working who are not supposed to work there, and abuses are more likely to happen elsewhere than in legal prostitution. But legalizing prostitution isn't enough, because even though prostitution is completely legal in Holland, society still doesn't accept sex work as a regular job, unlike how some people might thing. On paper we are normal, but we are still treated different in reality when it comes to financial services, banking, finding a place to live and regulations.

Yes, legalizing the brothels has helped to create a saver environment for sex workers, and it has helped reducing abuses, but sex workers are still vulnerable to human trafficking as long as society doesn't want to help them, which traffickers see as a chance to help sex workers with this in order to exploit them. Legalizing prostitution and brothels is just the first step into improving the position of sex workers and fighting abuses, the final step is to accept sex work as work by removing the stigma, so that sex workers don't have to depend on traffickers in order to do their job. So Holland has still one step to take after the legalization, which is to normalize prostitution by socially accepting it as work.

Dutch version
1 Response
  1. Prostitution should be legalized because it helps in creating more safer working environment for sex workers. Human trafficking will be less.


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    Romanian prostitute working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam (De Wallen), speaking out for the truth behind prostitution. Blogging about prostitution, human trafficking, forced prostitution, politics and all the myths surrounding it. Member of PROUD, the Dutch union of sex workers.