Mayors from Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague and Groningen have raised concerns that a proposed new law could have damaging consequences for some ‘vulnerable’ sex workers. The law – which is represented by Minister Ferd Grapperhaus of Justice and Security and is currently in online consultation – would mandate a license for all prostitutes and sex business operators in the Netherlands, ultimately criminalizing unlicensed sex workers, their customers, and their employers.
The new law raises the legal age of prostitution to 21, imposes a so-called “pimp-ban”, and requires all prostitutes working in the Netherlands to submit information to a national registry.
The government explains on its website, “There will be a legal, uniform license requirement for all prostitutes and sex business operators to regulate the sex industry and to combat human trafficking. Prostitutes without a license are in violation. This also applies to operators who run a sex business without the right papers. In addition, the customer becomes punishable by illegal prostitution…There will also be a pimp ban. It becomes punishable for profit to assist with illegal prostitution.”
The five major city mayors say in response that the law could be “counterproductive, making this group further hidden from view, unreachable for care and in an even more vulnerable position.”
Critic EJA Groot Kormelink of Amsterdam explains in an online response to the law, “By criminalizing a person who practices the profession of sex worker without a license, a huge barricade is created for that person to go to the right social workers and authorities. After all, you report yourself as a criminal.”
Opponents of the law raised concerns that requiring prostitutes to register in a database is a violation of privacy and may force more sex workers to begin working illegally. For example, sex workers aged 18-21 who continue to work would be criminalized and migrants lacking residence permits could be criminalized if they engage in sex work. There are also concerns that data leaks could leave sex workers vulnerable to blackmail and other privacy violations.
The law is opened for public comment and aside from the concerns raised by the 5 mayors, the page includes over 100 comments both for and against the law, such as a statement from Carmen de Groot in Veluwe who says, “I have been working as a sex worker for 20 years…a lady who knows well what she does or does not want…mandatory register[ry for] sex workers is a very serious violation of our privacy, you can continue to insist that our industry is not like everyone else and that the government has a duty of care, so let’s start with the duty of care to actually listen carefully to independently working sex workers.”
Other responses include a comment from WA Philippo who calls the bill “problematic” and “a serious restriction on both the freedom of the Dutch citizen and the rights of sex workers in the Netherlands. The actual victims of this are members of society who are already heavily marginalized, in particular Trans/LGBTI + and very poor women/sex workers who do not have the money, access or resources for a permit. This bill borders on bullying…”
A proponent commenter named C Lugthart writes, “There is still too much assumption that sex work is ‘normal’ work. The reality is that it is almost always an emergency or forced activity. The law must be made even stricter.”
A critic writes, “The oldest profession in the world does not have to be given a new look. There will always be a need for sex workers. As a sex worker, I am discouraged from applying for the pass…”
Mrs Roxana Sarbescu of the Red Light Girls Organization writes, “The minimum age of 21 years old is a great way of adjusting and regulating sex work, most of us started at 18 or earlier and we are sorry no one stopped us…” but she suggests, “City halls should give up regulation about working at home…please don’t make our work more difficult by adding more rules apart from the permit and the KVK accountant obligation.”
Ir. L. Nieuwenhuis in den Helder says, “This WRP must be withdrawn as quickly as possible. We need freedom and transparency and not the ‘Zwarte Kousen Kerk’ (Black Stocking Church) morality,” – using an expression referencing orthodox Christianity.
Dymphie Janssen of Heerlen writes, “…the Sex Regulation Work Regulation that the Dutch government is proposing is very bad. I also believe that exploitation and human trafficking should be prohibited. But you cannot achieve this with this law.” She lists a variety of reasons and adds, “But I think it is even more important to normalize this profession, not by registering it in a register, this will only make the stigma bigger.”