For someone who comes from a place where sex work is illegal, unsafe, and held in contempt by society, walking down the streets of the Red Light district in Amsterdam is a surreal experience.
Inevitably high off secondhand pot-smoke, passing women displayed in windows who stare back, scanning the crowds for potential customers – one wonders what life is like for these workers in a city that designates a system that protects their rights and needs.
De Wallen, the best-known of three Red Light districts in Amsterdam, is centrally located within the city, and is the backbone for the Dutch sex industry. The city’s policy deems prostitution to be legal and regulated, and any agencies or independent workers must have a license. The system is in place to ensure the health and safety of prostitutes and to provide a contained and managed space for this work to take place.
In most cases, prostitution is considered a last resort for women – something they run to when they think they have nothing else – which makes them vulnerable targets for pimps and leaders of sex-trafficking rings, which yield violence, rape, and sexually transmitted diseases, leaving workers with more consequence than compensation.
The term “sex sells” has become a cliché for contemporary media, but in the literal sense, prostitutes provide a service in society. As long as there is a market seeking to pay for sex, there will always be the need for a worker to fulfill that demand. When society pegs a taboo on the industry, prostitutes are unprotected and belittled. What happens to a society after the decriminalization of prostitution? Many argue that all womankind will continue to be objectified and abused as long as other women are offering to sell their bodies, and that men will assume their money entitles them to sexual favors. However, others contend that by providing a woman with the opportunity to work independently from a pimp or other agency, she is then empowered to consensually prostitute. Perhaps the future holds a world where sex workers can exist in society without wearing judgments and shame of society.
The government also benefits from the legalization of prostitution. The industry operates underground, controlled by cartels and pimps, none of who pay state or federal taxes. In Nevada, USA, prostitution is legal outside Las Vegas. Yearly, legal prostitution brings $75 million while illegal prostitution in the infamous “Sin City” alone grosses $5 billion per year.
While the practice remains illegal, governments are wasting taxpayer dollars imprisoning prostitutes when they could be gaining significant tax revenue while simultaneously creating a solution for a demographic that is largely exploited, neglected, and alienated.
In the case of prostitution: decriminalization should equate to liberation. If the government is going to allow prostitution to happen it must also maintain a regulatory system that creates a safe and healthy environment for workers while also normalizing the practice. If more countries follow Amsterdam in the legalization of prostitution, there maybe be a world where sex workers can be provided with the means to work happily, healthily, and safely, while also avoiding the social stigmatization that so often pushes women back into the arms of illegal prostitution.
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Amsterdam treats sex workers like human beings
De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands