Dutch Prostitutes hit by economic crisis / Breaking News

Amsterdam’s famous  red-light district under threat, economic crisis on the one hand and lawmakers are proposing changes to the sex-for-hire industry following a recognition in the freewheeling Netherlands

The economic crisis is forcing prostitutes to lower their prices and to accept dubious sexual practices, according to sector organisation Geisha.

‘The trend is apparent in the main cities, with some prostitutes unable to pay the rent on their rooms’, Ilonka Stakelborough from Geisha told Algemeen Dagblad.

Until recently, the minimum price was €50, but this has now dropped as low as €20 in cities such as Amsterdam and The Hague.

Geisha is to set up a project for sex workers so they can form a co-operative. Geisha will rent a room which prostitutes only pay rent for when they are actually working.

Amsterdam Red-Light District:Holland Debates Sex Trade

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This city’s famed red-light district looks much as it has for years, with bikini-clad women behind plate-glass windows fluffing their hair or beckoning to passersby, colorful beds visible in the background as an unspoken invitation.

But things could soon change for the sex-for-hire industry following a recognition in the freewheeling Netherlands that its decision in 2000 to legalize brothels has failed to stem human trafficking.

“For something as simple as the lust for sex, we are tolerating modern-day slavery,” said Myrthe Hilkens, a Labor Party legislator who supports a series of moves to tighten the rules on prostitution. “I think that cannot be.”

The proposals are far-reaching. Most contested is a bill to require all prostitutes be registered with the government—a measure that has already been approved by the lower house but is struggling in the Senate.

Also in the works: raising the minimum age to 21 from 18, and a requirement that escort services be licensed, just as brothels currently are.

A vote is expected before the summer recess on July 9.

Meanwhile, the city government in Amsterdam on Wednesday is expected to approve tougher rules, including ordering brothels to close in the early-morning hours and requiring that prostitutes speak Dutch, English, German or Spanish, to make it harder to exploit them.

These ideas reflect a consensus that regulating prostitution hasn’t deterred human trafficking, which has increased since the opening of the former Soviet bloc in the 1980s.

“A huge concern is that a lot of criminal organizations send their prostitutes to the Netherlands,” said Ard van der Steur, a legislator from the center-right Liberal Party, which rules in a coalition with the left-leaning Labor Party. “Leaving everything the way it is fuels a grave concern that we are not doing what we should to prevent human trafficking.”

A similar debate is under way in Germany, which followed the Netherlands in liberalizing prostitution in 2002.

But critics say such restrictions will hurt sex workers, not those who exploit them. “You do not have to fight sex work, you have to fight trafficking,” said Ilonka Stakelborough, a former prostitute who now runs a Dutch advocacy group called Geisha.

Under the proposed registry, Holland’s roughly 20,000 prostitutes would have to meet with government officials and show they are not being coerced in order to get a registration card.

Critics call that a violation of the privacy of prostitutes, who may want to hide their current profession from future employers. A prostitute working involuntarily, often facing threats to her family, they add, can hardly be expected to tell a government official the truth.

“You put a coerced woman in front of a civil servant, and she will say whatever she has to say,” said Flavia Dzodan, an Amsterdam-based journalist who blogs on women’s issues.

The Senate will soon vote on whether to remove the registry from the bill. Underlying the debate is the broader question of whether prostitution can truly be “cleaned up.” The city’s red-light district, which expanded in the 17th century when Amsterdam was a leading port city, remains one of Europe’s big tourist attractions., with a Sex Museum, an elaborate condom shop and the smell of marijuana wafting from the many “coffee shops” authorized to sell it.

The city for several years has been trying to reshape the neighborhood, buying up brothels it considers dangerous, like those in dimly-lighted corners, and turning them into cafes or shops.

City officials say they have managed to cut the number of prostitutes’ windows in the red-light district from 500 to 409 in about five years, and want to ultimately bring it down to 300.

“We try not to address these problems from the moral point of view,” Eberhard van der Laan, Amsterdam’s mayor, said. “We say there is abuse and we want to fight it.”

The prostitution issue erupted in February, when Ms. Hilkens and another lawmaker, Gert-Jan Segers, made a highly publicized visit to Sweden, which outlaws buying sexual services but not selling them. Ms. Hilkens and Mr. Segers discussed this different approach from Holland’s in Dutch television studios.

No one expects the Netherlands to criminalize sex-for-hire soon, though Mr. Segers, of the Christian Union Party, believes it should. “It’s immoral when a man with power and money is buying the body of a woman,” he said. Dutch officials note prostitution is widely practiced even in countries that ban it. (In the U.S., prostitution is illegal except in parts of Nevada.)

“It’s unlikely to disappear anywhere on earth,” said Willem Witteveen, a Labor Party legislator. “You should bring it into the open and see if you can prevent excesses.”

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