Is it legal to pay for sex in Europe?

The perennial debate over whether prostitution should be legalized or not is no longer topical after Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera stated in Spain ina radio interview that he was in favor of decriminalizing this activity. The Popular Party candidate for mayor of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, soon joined this proposal, who also claimed to have been the first to defend this position years ago. However, Aguirre and Rivera have been left alone in their defense of legal and regulated prostitution, as no other party or politician has joined them. On the contrary, the majority, led by the PSOE, has quickly shifted away from the idea They argue that prostitution, as Antonio Miguel Carmona, the socialist candidate for mayor of Madrid, said, is “an exploitation of men towards women”. However, those who defend it claim that regulating the activity puts an end to abuse and guarantees minimum conditions of safety and hygiene impossible to achieve if the activity remains illegal. Collectives for or against this idea often cite the Dutch model equally in this debate. Prostitution has been completely legal there since 2000.

A Dutch saying goes,”God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland”. It refers not only to their ability to gain land from the sea based on embankments, but also to their ability to be pioneers and a world reference in terms of freedoms and rights. Not in vain was it the first country to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption of children in same-sex couples, and it is the only country in the world that allows the sale of marijuana and its derivatives in leisure facilities.

The special case of Amsterdam

Dutch tolerance has a lot to do with its past. Merchants and fishermen from the North Sea founded cities like Amsterdam, where commercial activity was successful from the beginning. The idea was simple, to allow almost any activity as long as it did not harm the prosperity of the city and public order. Over time, that way of looking at life earned the Netherlands a reputation as the land of freedom, tolerance and diversity. Respect for the rules was fundamental to coexistence and business, and it is something that continues to be maintained today and which attracts the attention of visitors from countries further south. That respect for the established rules is what makes it possible that, even though any Dutch adult can acquire marijuana in one of the more than 600 coffee shops all over the country, the nation is not chaos. The sale is not legalised, but “tolerated”, but it must still comply with a series of rules: no more than a certain quantity (5 grams maximum per day) can be bought and only in certain premises, smoking tobacco is not allowed in coffee shops and in most of them alcohol cannot be consumed, marijuana cannot be smoked on the street and in some cities of the country it can only be bought by Dutch citizens.

As in any port city, in Amsterdam, the capital of the country, prostitution appeared almost at the same time as seamen. The activity was also tolerated from the outset, and even legalized in 2000 with the lifting of the ban on brothels since 1911. The aim, according to the Dutch government, was to “prevent abuses” in a sector that moves billions of euros every year. According to Sentina van der Meer, press officer at the Ministry of Security and Justice of the Dutch Government,”Eurostat has estimated that illegal prostitution in the Netherlands alone produces more than EUR 540 million of the Dutch Gross Domestic Product each year”. The government itself acknowledged in 2014 that the sex trade in the country accounts for more than 2,500 million euros each year, 0.4% of GDP, and is already, along with drug sales, the main driver of the Dutch economy ahead of the cheese industry.

Prostitute in the Netherlands

Legalizing does not mean deregulating; on the contrary, it means complying with a series of rules to maintain controlled activity. In fact, when the ban on prostitution in brothels was lifted in 2000, a new article in the country’s Criminal Code came into force, making all forms of exploitation in prostitution punishable. At the same time, the Child Protection Act was revised and the minimum age for sex work was raised from 18 to 21 years. In other words, the legalization implied greater administrative control over the activity. The municipal authorities are responsible for designing policies on prostitution, and according to data provided by the Dutch Government through the latest study on prostitution in the Netherlands 2014, they “have imposed strict control measures on the sector”.