Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 233-243

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Policy Change in Prostitution in the Netherlands: from Legalization to Strict Control

  • Joyce OutshoornAffiliated withInstitute of Political Science, University of Leiden Email author 


The Netherlands legalized prostitution in 1999 and is currently debating a new bill, the ‘Law regulating prostitution and suppressing abuse in the sex industry’. The legalization made a distinction between voluntary sex work, which is legal, and forced prostitution, which remains a criminal offence. In the 2000s, evaluations showed that, while there is a reasonably working legal prostitution sector, abuse, bad working conditions and trafficking still occur. The media have played an important role in reframing the issue, and politicians have successfully set the revision of the legalization on the agenda, resulting in a new bill at the end of the decade. With this proposal and its framing of fighting human trafficking and organized crime, the Netherlands is reneging on its original progressive legalization by adopting a strict regulation of all prostitution. Sex workers will have to register with the authorities; the age to work in the sex industry will be raised to 21 years and clients have to check whether the sex worker is registered and not an undocumented worker. This article accounts for these two major shifts in prostitution policy in the Netherlands and discusses the consequences for sex workers.


Prostitution policy and law Sex workers’ rights