It’s the “world’s oldest profession.” Are sex workers just a different kind of entrepreneur?
“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It can also be judged by how well we treat our prostitutes.
There’s an informative article about American prostitution on The Huffington Post, written by Carina Kolodny. It’s called 9 Things You Didn’t Know About American Prostitution. A brief summary: It’s a business worth billions of dollars, including credit card use. Most pimps have at least a high school diploma. Several members/generations of a family often participate. The customer base is diverse, mostly white and including cops. And it’s illegal.
In some countries, prostitution is legal. And in others, it’s a crime punishable by death. Some people view it as a form of human rights abuse, while others believe it’s a legitimate occupation where one person trades sexual acts for money or goods. All governments view trafficking for sexual exploitation as a violent crime.
The legality of prostitution in Europe varies by country. Sweden, Norway and Iceland follow the Nordic Model where prostitution is viewed as a violation of human rights, and they criminalize the ones who buy sex rather than the ones who sell it. In the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary and Latvia, prostitution is legalized and regulated.
The Netherlands is well known for its Red Light District, and it’s one of the first things tourists want to see. Officials estimate that the business takes in more than 100 million US dollars per year. I’ve walked through the alley a few times, and it’s really not a big deal. It’s much more interesting to me that the Netherlands has the highest density of museums per square meter than any other country in the world.
The Red Light District is especially not a big deal to the Dutch. For one thing, it’s been there since 1413, so everyone’s used to it. And Dutch men just don’t chase after breasts.
Dutch men and women consider the physical body natural, and they’re comfortable with nudity. The beaches have been topless for decades. Public spas are found in almost every city, where both men and women are nude. My Dutch husband took my 18-year-old American son to a local sauna. And while they were sitting in a Jacuzzi, a completely naked beautiful young blond woman threw her leg over the edge and slipped into the water. It was all my son could talk about for days!
The reasoning behind the Dutch policy of tolerance is harm reduction. The Dutch believe that banning prostitution makes it more difficult to control. And therefore, it becomes more difficult to eliminate serious criminal behavior like trafficking and exploitation, especially of minors.
Dutch authorities treat prostitutes as independent entrepreneurs. As working men and women, they’re required to register to receive a work permit, and they pay taxes on their income. The city provides free or low-cost healthcare to them, and is vigilant against STDs.
Clients must be at least 16 years old, the age of consent in the Netherlands. Prostitutes must be 21. The Dutch believe that people aged 21 are better able to make a well-considered decision about working as a prostitute and are better able to cope with working in the industry. Most prostitution consists of females selling sex to males. According to estimates, 5% of prostitutes are males and 5% are transgender.
The church in Europe has had an evolving relationship with prostitution for centuries, condemning it, tolerating it, participating in it – going back and forth between exiling them and providing them asylum. So it’s not unusual when visiting medieval cathedrals to see, right next-door, centuries-old stone shops that operated much like Amsterdam’s famous windows.
In a small courtyard behind Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk (Old Church), which is located in the Red Light District, stands the Prostitute Monument. It’s a bronze statue of a scantily clothed woman in a doorway, waiting for a customer. It was placed there by Amsterdam’s Prostitution Information Center. And it represents the Dutch mentality: It’s a profession like any other work. And it’s good as long as the women and men who work as prostitutes do it from their own will, and are not exploited. The sex workers should be respected, and their rights protected.
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Photo: Flickr/JJ Merelo