Sex Work

Prostitution law

The law on legalisation of  running a  prostitution business was introduced in 2000 in order to regulate and control this sphere of economy, and to improve the position of sex workers. This is a national law. The law states that those forms of prostitution in which adult prostitutes are voluntarily engaged are, under certain conditions no longer prohibited. It means that the relevant sections have been deleted from the Dutch Criminal Code (article 250b against the commercial exploitation of prostitution by third persons).

At the same time, stricter penalisation of undesirable forms of prostitution and sexual abuse of minors was introduced. The new section 250a of the Dutch Criminal Code penalises all forms of exploitation of persons in the prostitution sector. The Criminal Code only lifted the ban on brothels and the part of taking economical advantage of prostitution by third persons and substituted the old article by the new definition of pimping and exploitation of involuntary prostitution and underage persons. The regulation of prostitution and the implementation of prostitution policy is the competence of the local city councils.

Regulation of sex work in the Netherlands

The practical implication of the law is that the government drew up guidelines for the local authorities (i.e. municipalities) on of all forms of prostitution and its commercial exploitation in their area or jurisdiction. The municipal authorities have much freedom of choosing the way they want to deal with prostitution but they are not allowed to ban prostitution completely out of their area. They must set the conditions under which prostitution is permitted within their boundaries. Only those establishments that meet these conditions can get the special licences that permit them to start or continue to do their business.

Some of the conditions that the municipalities must set are:

·        the nature and size of brothels: the brothel may not disrupt the residential climate and quality of life of a neighbourhood, no brothel near a church or school.

·        the owner of the brothel cannot have a criminal record

·        hygiene and safety: minimum dimensions of the working area, hot and cold water, presence of condoms, fire safety

·        position and status of sex workers: protection of their physical and mental integrity, no under age prostitutes, no prostitutes without a valid work permit

The municipal authorities appointed special services that are responsible for checking whether these conditions are fulfilled. If the owner does not meet these requirements, his brothel will be closed.

There are no mandatory medical check-ups imposed on sex workers. This policy has been be maintained under the new law and every effort will is being made in order to facilitate the prostitute’s access to voluntary, anonymous and affordable medical services. Until now there is no registration of sex workers,

The prostitution may take place only in licensed sex work establishments; in principle there is no street prostitution - apart from two or three authorised zones that are accessible for sex workers who are in possession of a special permit.

The Licensing System.

Most municipalities have a licensing system for sex businesses in place. The license requirements are laid down in the municipal General Local Ordnance (APV). A business not complying with license requirements can be closed. Not all municipalities have a licensing policy and policies are not identical. In some cities, escort agencies must be licensed, whereas in others they need no license. There are municipalities that effectively try to ban sex businesses entirely with requirements that cannot be met. Almost a quarter of all municipalities have a zero policy in place, meaning all forms of sex business are banned. Street prostitution has been banned almost everywhere. There are but a few cities left with a streetwalking zone. Typically, sex workers must have a permit to work there. Like all self-employed people, self-employed sex workers, for instance those at a window brothel, must be registered with the Chamber of Commerce. They can use the ‘personal services’ category to protect their privacy.

Work at or from Home

In many cities, it is illegal to work at or from one’s residence, for instance as an in-call or out-call escort. Sex workers working at or from home risk fines, being outed, and possibly (being threatened with) evictions. Some cities allow ‘home-work’ only if it does not resemble the operation of a business. What this exactly entails is not clear and can differ in each municipality. Usually, the bottom line is that sex workers must be registered with the city as living at the address where they work, that they work strictly alone, and that they do not, or only occasionally, advertise. Working while a colleague or partner is at the residence, for example for safety reasons, is considered operating a business and requires a permit. Still other cities require home-workers to apply for a permit, which means that their names and addresses are made public in local newspapers and on municipal websites, at the expense of their privacy and safety. In any case, the likelihood of getting a permit is minimal. Municipalities lay down the home-work rules in their APV (municipal General Local Ordnance)

Zoning regulations, too, may prohibit home-work (or other forms of sex work).

The police try to trace home-workers on advertising sites. Officially, this is meant to trace trafficked persons but in reality, it mainly affects independent home-workers. Therefore, home-workers are not eager to call the police for help when something goes wrong. After all, they would risk losing their income or residence.

The Opting-in Regulation.  Since 2008, most operators in the indoor prostitution branch must work with the so-called Opting-in regulation.

The Opting-in is an agreement between operators and the tax office that puts independent sex workers in a labor position between salaried employment and self-employment. Clients pay the operators. The operators pay the sex workers after withholding 21% VAT and the income tax, and after taking out their share (usually 40-50% of what clients pay). Sex workers are neither employed by the operator nor self-employed. They are not insured for unemployment or disablement nor do they enjoy labor protection like other regular employees do. They also do not have the rights of self-employed people, for instance tax reliefs for self-employed people. Instead, as a sort of expense allowance, sex workers do not pay taxes on the first 20% of their gross earnings (the so-called ‘20% rule’). The Opting-in regulation for the organized branch of the sex industry comes with a set of ‘conditions’ that do not allow operators to interfere with the work of sex workers. Sex workers are free to set their work hours and fees, accept or reject clients, determine which services they do or do not offer, and choose their outfits. In reality, there is no control on compliance with this non-interference and sex workers complain about being poorly informed about their rights as spelled out in the conditions. One Opting-in advantage for sex workers is that operators must file and pay their taxes. Sex workers have no such administrative duties.

Opting-in regulations also exist for other professional freelance groups, extraordinary for the prostitution branch is that sex workers in the licensed sector have no other choice than this hybrid labor relationship, labeled ‘fictitious’ (salaried but unemployed), because the tax office imposes the Opting-in regulation on operators. However, since 2015, the tax office allows sex workers to work as independent contractors at a few clubs and “privéhuizen “by just renting a room there.

In theory, a payroll construction is an option in licensed sex businesses, but it is not applied.

 A new prostitution bill

A large number of legislative proposals, aiming to reform prostitution legislation, have been introduced, discussed, amended, and then even reintroduced. First, the Dutch government introduced the Bill Regulation of Prostitution and Combatting Abuses in the Sex Industry (Bill Regulation of Prostitution) in 2009.

This bill was amended in 2014 and, as a result, renamed the Amended Bill Regulation of Prostitution. In addition to this, some members of the Dutch Parliament wanted to go one step further than the government and submitted a bill entitled the Bill Penalization of Abuse of Prostitutes Who Are Victims of Human Trafficking to Parliament in 2014.  

At the moment, (2019), the bill, amended without the registration requirement, has stalled in the Senate and the current government wants to amend it once more. Still set on sex worker registration, it tries to require from sex workers an intake interview at the Municipal Health Service (GGD). Another requirement is the licensing of all forms of sex work, including independent home-work and escort services. Furthermore, there are plans for a so-called ‘Pimping ban’ that would, in addition to what the human trafficking law already encompasses, “criminalize everyone involved for financial gain with the unlicensed business of providing sexual services,” as the current cabinet announced. And, finally, there was a bill introduced to criminalize clients of probable victims of human trafficking. Despite the Senate’s rejection of the registration requirement, a number of municipalities nevertheless made an attempt to implement this locally. However, since it would involve sensitive personal data, the permission from the Personal Data Protection Authority would be required. So far, this permission has been refused. Therefore, municipalities are not even allowed to register sex workers through a required intake interview at the police or GGD (GGD: municipal public health services).

Ahead of the new law, many municipalities already raised the minimum age for sex work to 21 years.

Currently, a person can work as sex worker in the Netherlands if she/he: is18 years of age or older, has permanent residence, was not forced or coerced into working and works in a venue that has a permit. However, under the proposed law the "Amended Bill Regulation of Prostitution” there would be several changes.

The goal of this bill is to tighten the regulation of prostitution, in particular the licensing requirements for brothels and other sex establishments, and improve government oversight at a national level. The government expects stricter regulations to have a strong deterrent effect on traffickers and to help prevent exploitative practices.

The new bill's primary measures:

  • Raising the minimum age from 18 to 21: it will be illegal to work in any form of prostitution before age 21. Sex workers under 21 will be fined.
  • Uniform national licensing system for all businesses in the sex industry, (including independent home-work and escort services), but municipalities are still free to apply their own additional regulations.
  • Being the client of a sex worker who is under 21 years of age will be a criminal act that can be punished with up to a year of prison time and/or a high fine. Licence holders that allow sex workers under the age of 21 to work on their premises will be punished according to criminal law.
  •  Working outside licenced premises will be considered illegal.
  • Employers who do not comply with licensing requirements can be prosecuted.