Global-Local: Prostitution

Jaunary 3, 2014

Amsterdam is known worldwide as a diverse and tolerant city; it is a global community in itself that encompasses many cultures, traditions, and beliefs. Although the city is predominantly Dutch, it is safe to say that the minority groups make the city what it is today. Many local issues in the Amsterdam and broader Netherlands communities do span to a global scale. The local issue I will focus on is a stereotypical trend of Amsterdam that is also an activity worldwide: prostitution. While prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, many parts of the world look down upon this practice and claim it to be a criminal offense. The legality of prostitution, however, had made the industry safer for prostitutes in Amsterdam as it is regarded as a regulated business and provides support for the women involved. Prostitution is only one aspect of human rights, and is a microcosm for the overall view and action towards women’s rights globally.  I will focus on a brief introduction of prostitution in Amsterdam and what it entails, and then investigate the global scale of the issue.

According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide, legalized prostitution in the Netherlands is an “example of a pragmatic approach to social matters reflected in the Dutch legal system” (2009). Prostitution in itself has never been a criminal defense in the Netherlands, but pimping and brothels were banned before 2000. It is currently legal to employ prostitutes who are over the age of legal consent and do the work voluntarily. By legalizing brothels, the government can have more control over the sex industry and therefore prevent abuses. The industry is regulated under normal labor laws, which protects workers from exploitation. Prostitutes also have their own trade union. Because of this, prostitution is considered a legitimate occupation and prostitutes have the same rights and obligations as other professionals in the Netherlands. It is a high-paying career, and usually viewed as a business exchange rather than a sexual exchange. Legalization of prostitution creates competition between enterprises instead of giving criminals a monopoly. Legalized brothels often attract professional managers and run as real businesses.

Socially, residents of the Netherlands and Amsterdam accept prostitution. Families still live above the businesses located along the canals of the Red Light District, and prostitutes are treated as any other woman, despite ogling from tourists. Police cameras watch out over the alleyways filled with red lights, and brothel owners frequent the rooms that host the prostitutes during local hours. No photographs are allowed of the women, and that seems to be an issue of respect. Amsterdam supplies prostitutes with education and support, making sure these individuals lead healthier and safer lives.

Prostitution is known worldwide as “the oldest profession” and it is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. Prostitution becomes a global issue in terms of human trafficking. Legalized prostitution, however, aims to limit this issue. Regulation of prostitution is necessary in the Netherlands to prevent such abuse. Of course some human trafficking does occur, mostly of women from Hungary, Romania, Albania, and other eastern European countries. Human trafficking in Amsterdam is on the rise, and the Netherlands is listed by the UNODC as a top destination for victims of trafficking. Prostitution is a common activity throughout the world and especially in the United States. There, it is considered a victimless crime despite the trauma that prostitutes undergo. Prostitution is the largest commodity for men in Thailand and a major attraction point for tourists. It is, however, illegal in Thailand and the women involved suffer from sexually transmitted diseases and various mental illnesses. Prostitution is definitely a hot topic in terms of human rights and it becomes unclear who is correct in terms of legalizing prostitution of leaving it as a criminal offense. Erik Voeten, a writer for “The Monkey Cage,” believes that legalized prostitution actually increases human trafficking as legalization creates a higher demand. He uses statistics that claim human trafficking victims in Denmark, where prostitution is decriminalized, are four times higher than Sweden, where the act is illegal.  Prostitution varies dramatically at a global scale, but the Netherlands is strong in regulating the business and listed to reports of suspicious activity. Many reports available today state that legalization has harmed more women or has failed; yet others view legalization as a positive. One must really investigate legalization worldwide to form their own opinion.

The issue of prostitution is not an issue that I have ever run into while in the United States, but one that I have chosen to investigate, as it is a large industry in my host community and something that I witness everyday. Many classmates at my university choose to partake in a class on prostitution, and have the opportunity to interview prostitutes and get personal opinions on the state of their lives in the business. Hearing about these interviews has led to me believe that of the prostitutes conversed with, many have supportive families, sometimes children, and enjoy their jobs. This shows, to me, that the local issue of prostitution in Amsterdam might not be such an issue at all. If foreign governments considered legality of prostitution, there is a change that the quality of life for prostitutes could increase, or individuals who have been involved in human trafficking could be saved by government intervention. I am interested in looking at prostitution in other countries I might come in contact with in the future, and how they view human rights in terms of the sex industry.

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