Red Light District, pt. 2


Back in July, I wrote a post about the Red Light District in Amsterdam where I shared some interesting facts about the De Wallen (as it is known to locals) district. One topic I did not discuss in the post was the Red Light District’s association with prostitution.

I can’t lie – the Red Light District and prostitution go hand-in-hand, but the Amsterdam version is not the same as most North Americans are familiar with. Therefore, I thought the idea of prostitution in Amsterdam deserved its own post, because it’s a topic often considered taboo. But if you’re travelling to Amsterdam it’s a topic you’ll be talking about. I promise. Now let’s get you some answers…



Is prostitution legal in Amsterdam?


In 2000, the Dutch ban on brothels was lifted and a licensing system was introduced meaning prostitution has become a legal means of generating income within the country.


What does a licensing system mean?

Prostitutes are now legally required to join a national register. This has resulted in making the industry more transparent and has also reduced illegal practices and the exploitation of children.  There are now municipal regulations about the organization and the practice of business which are enforced by the police, the urban district council, and multiple health authorities.


What is the legal age for prostitution?

In July 2013, the legal age of prostitution was raised from 18 to 21. The change was introduced after it was decided that peoples of the age of 21 are better able to make a well-informed decision about working in the field than those who are 18.


How many prostitutes are there in Amsterdam?

It is estimated that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 working in the sex industry in Amsterdam.


Are there different forms of prostitution?


There are many different forms of prostitution in Amsterdam. There are prostitutes who work in a window (Red Light District), in a club or a ‘private house’ (a sex club without a bar), as escorts, at home or on the street.


Do prostitutes really pay taxes in Amsterdam?


Prostitutes are treated as independent entrepreneurs, meaning the are required to submit the income declaration and pay taxes.


I heard that the prostitutes have a union, is this true?

There are various advocacy groups for prostitutes, but no union. The Red Thread (De Rode Draad in Dutch) was an advocacy group that often referred to themselves as a union, but they are no longer active (as of 2012).

The closest thing would be the Prostitute Information Centre (PIC) in the Red Light District. The PIC is a charitable foundation that informs the public about the social conditions of women working in the sex industry and assists prostitutes in the area with various concerns/ problems.


If prostitution is legal, does that mean all the prostitutes are safe/ protected?

Absolutely not.

The trafficking of women and the exploitation of children is still a huge concern in Amsterdam, so by no means has making the industry legal abolished these problems. However, the Dutch government continues to enact laws that attempt to eliminate human trafficking and abuse. Most recently, the European Court of Justice ruled that that brothel owners must be able to communicate with sex workers in their own language.

I have yet to make an informed decision if I am for or against the legalization of prostitution, but I am always for knowing as much about a country/ city as I can before I arrive. Therefore, I hope this post gives you a little insight to how it all works in Amsterdam.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? Care to share your opinion of the Red Light District?

The information for this post came from two main sources: FAQ Red Light District and Prostitution in Amsterdam.




  1. Mark van der Beer
    November 16, 2015 / 4:44 pm

    Actually the prostitutes in Holland do have a union, It’s called PROUD. You can see the website here:

    Secondly, indeed trafficking is still a concern, as it has been and always will be. Huge may not be the right word for it however. Of course each victim is one too many, but huge would imply a large portion of the prostitutes, and that’s simply not true. In fact, from the 5000 to 8000 sex workers you mentioned, last year all authorities and anti-trafficking organisations only found 38 prostitutes who perhaps could be victims (these are reported to the Dutch National Rapporteur Trafficking as ‘possible’ victims).

    Now to be more precise, since this post is about Amsterdam’s Red Light District, from those 38 possible victims, of whom we’re not sure if they’re really victims or not at all, only 6 were working in the Red Light District itself last year. So ‘huge’ would be not the right way to put it, considering the fact that in the Red Light District there are about 600 women working (meaning only about 1% is possibly a victim according to authorities).

    And another small remark, home prostitution isn’t actually legal in Amsterdam. This is the result and the downside of having a licensing system, since this means politicians can decide who gets a license and who doesn’t. And if you got the wrong politicians in power, that means nobody gets a new permit, and that’s exactly what’s been going on in the past few years.

    By definition home prostitution isn’t allowed in Amsterdam. So you also can’t get a license for that. This leaves prostitutes only with the option to either work for someone else in a club for example, where they get paid by the boss who runs the club, or work independently behind the windows, for which they won’t have to share their income with the owner.

    Problem is however, besides the already existing brothels who already have a license, never does the city give out new licenses. While on the same side, it has reduced legal prostitution businesses, especially in the Red Light District heavily. More than 100 windows have been closed down, while the women that worked there had no replacement for those workplaces. This has led to a growth in illegal prostitution, because they can’t get a license, because the city never gives out new licences.

    I understand you haven’t worked out yet if you support the idea of legalizing prostitution or not, like we did here in Holland. And I don’t blame you. In fact, I think the whole word of ‘legalizing’ prostitution is an incorrect term, since it by far did not legalize prostitution, just some parts of it under very strict regulations. It would be better to speak of ‘regulated’ prostitution, since that’s exactly what it is.

    To give you a simple example. If you were a prostitute, and wanted to start to work, what would you pick?
    1. A brothel where the owner takes 50% or more of your income, since you’re on a payroll?
    2. A window brothel, where you get to keep everything you make, but your rent a night for a window is 150 euro?
    3. Your own place, business or house for which you don’t have to pay anyone anything?

    Now let me tell you what the reality is. If you want to start any of the above three businesses, either as a sex worker yourself, or as a brothel owner, you will never get a license for it, since the city never gives out any. This means you can’t do option 3, since that would require you to get your own license. So the only other two option left, are a brothel or window prostitution which already have a license. Yet in both cases you loose a lot of money from what you make, whether that’d be 50% or more to the brothel owner, or pay 150 euro per night for your window. In short, you’re stuck to pay people a lot of money, while you’d rather not pay anyone at all. Almost sounds like exploitation to me, being forced to pay people, but that’s just my opinion.

    No, I don’t think regulating prostitution, or ‘legalizing’ it like how they did here in Holland is the solution. The examples above are just a few of the many regulations there are regarding prostitution, making it more and more difficult for prostitutes to become independent and free.
    What I think is a far better idea, is what they did in New Zealand, which is called decriminalization. Meaning you don’t create any specific regulations for prostitution, except for those which already apply to other businesses as well. Now I know many people think this would increase trafficking, but that’s nonsense, since trafficking would be just as much a crime with or without decriminalizing prostitution. After all, there’s a good reason why Amnesty Int. choose decriminalization as the best way to protect the interests of prostitutes.

    • wanderbeforewhat
      November 16, 2015 / 5:52 pm

      Hey Mark,

      Thank you for your very informative and eloquent comment. I truly appreciate the response and throughly enjoyed reading through it; you are far more versed in the topic than I!
      I will be updating a portion of the post to include the information regarding the union PROUD and to better clarify that there are different types of prostitution, but that doesn’t mean all of them are legal in the Netherlands.

      Thank you again for stopping by and sharing your knowledge/ opinion on the topic.

      ~Sarah Lynn

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