After two years of research and discussion, human rights watchdog group Amnesty International voted on Tuesday to support policies around the world to decriminalize sex work.
The organization's goal may not have been to make the world a giant version of the Netherlands, where sex work was legalized in 2000, but the Dutch view is that legalization can help detach crime from prostitution, and keep sex workers safe.
Bringing the industry out into the open could be a step in the right direction.
Sex workers' lives have improved. According to the Dutch government, a study of the quality of life of sex workers in 2002 and 2007 showed improvement. Infrastructure has emerged to provide physical and mental health care, tools for STI prevention and ways to report abuse or violence. Many sex workers choose independent employment, but because sex work is now considered a legal job, the government mandates that owners of brothels, who operated under the radar for years must follow labor regulations and pay taxes.
According to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a legally authorized worker over the age of 21 can pursue sex work. In Amsterdam alone, the ministry reports an estimate of between 5,000 and 8,000 people actively in this line of work; there are as many as 31,000 throughout the Netherlands, according to some researchers. A currently proposed law would crack down on illegal sex work in the country, holding their employers responsible for violations, according to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Opening a brothel in the Netherlands is a detailed process. It requires a license, according to government guidelines. Anyone wanting to be a stay-at-home sex worker doesn't need to be licensed as long as they work alone. Still, soliciting work on the streets is not permitted in Amsterdam, nor is unlicensed escorting or paid hanky panky in massage parlors. Other municipalities throughout the country can reduce or restrict prostitution as they sees fit.
What about trafficking?
Anyone forcing people into sex work — either minors or people brought to the country against their will — can face up to 18 years in prison, depending on how severe the circumstances. According to the Dutch government, the licensing system made the whole industry easier to regulate and tamp down on the illegal exploitation of minors. Still, it hasn't rid the country of sex trafficking or abuse.