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Does Legalizing Prostitution Work?

AMSTERDAM – Prostitution is virtually the only part of the personal services industry in the Netherlands that works. One can’t get a manicure in Amsterdam without booking an appointment two weeks in advance, but men can buy sex anytime – and at an attractive price. The legalization of prostitution in October 2000 merely codified a long-standing Dutch tradition of tolerance towards buying and selling sex. But is legalization the right approach?

Even in the Netherlands, women and girls who sell their bodies are routinely threatened, beaten, raped, and terrorized by pimps and customers. In a recent criminal trial, two German-Turkish brothers stood accused of forcing more than 100 women to work in Amsterdam’s red-light district ( De Wallen ). According to the attorney who represented one of the victims, most of these women come from families marred by incest, alcohol abuse, and parental suicide. Or they come from countries in Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia and have fallen victim to human trafficking, lured by decent job offers or simply sold by their parents.