Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 215–228 | Cite as

The challenges of fighting sex trafficking in the legalized prostitution market of the Netherlands

  • Wim HuismanEmail author
  • Edward R. Kleemans


In 2000, the Dutch authorities lifted the ban on brothels in the Netherlands. The essence of their approach was to regulate prostitution. People of legal age could now voluntarily sell and purchase sexual services. Brothels which complied with certain licensing conditions were legalized. This paper critically assesses the logic of a position that argues that human trafficking is reduced when actors in the legalized prostitution sector are made responsible for what happens on their premises (using licensing conditions). This idea is confronted with empirical evidence about the Netherlands in general and the city of Amsterdam in particular. Furthermore, the paper addresses two questions. What are consequences of the regularization of prostitution for the criminal investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking? How do criminal justice agencies collaborate with regulatory authorities in the regulated and non-regulated sectors of the prostitution market? The main conclusion is that the screening of brothel owners and the monitoring of the compliance of licensing conditions do not create levels of transparency that enable sex trafficking to be exposed. The prostitution business retains many characteristics of an illegitimate market and the legalization and regulation of the prostitution sector has not driven out organized crime. On the contrary, fighting sex trafficking using the criminal justice system may even be harder in the legalized prostitution sector.


Criminal Justice Organize Crime Human Trafficking Criminal Investigation Community Police 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Daalder, A. L. (2007). Prostitution in the Netherlands since the lifting of the brothel ban. The Hague: WODC.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cho, S.-Y., Dreher, A., & Neumayer, E. (2012). Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking? World Development, 41, 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Marinova, N. K., & James, P. (2012). The tragedy of human trafficking: competing theories and European evidence. Foreign Policy Analysis, 8, 231–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Weitzer, R. (2010). The mythology of prostitution: advocacy research and public policy. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 15–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Zhang, S. X. (2009). Beyond the ‘Natasha’ story—a review and critique of current research on sex trafficking. Global Crime, 10(3), 178–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Deighan, C. (2010). A business of supply and demand: the trafficking of women and girls from Russia and Ukraine. In G. Wylie & P. McRedmond (Eds.), Human trafficking in Europe: Character, causes and consequences (pp. 82–96). Basingstoke: Palgrave/McMillan.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hughes, D. M. (2000). The Natasha trade: the transnational shadow market of trafficking in women. Journal of International Affairs, 53(2), 1–18.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Brants, C. (1998). The fine art of regulated tolerance: prostitution in Amsterdam. Journal of Law and Society, 25(4), 621–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Outshoorn, J. (2012). Policy change in prostitution in the Netherlands: from legalization to strict control. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 9(3), 233–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Flight, S., Hulshof, P., van Someren, P., & Soorsma, P. (2006). Evaluatie opheffing bordeelverbod, gemeentelijk beleid. Amsterdam: DSP-groep BV.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Biesma, S., Van der Stoep, R., Naayer, H., & Bieleman, B. (2006). Verboden bordelen. Evaluatie opheffing bordeelverbod: Niet-legale prostitutie. Groningen: Intraval.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dekker, H., Tap, R., & Homburg, G. (2006). Evaluatie opheffing bordeelverbod: de sociale positie van prostituees. Regioplan Beleidsonderzoek.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Verhoeven, M. A., Gestel, B. van., & Kleemans, E. R. (2013). Legale sector, informele praktijken. De informele economie van de legale raamprostitutie in Nederland. Cahiers Politiestudies, 29, 115–130.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Verhoeven, M. A., Gestel, B. van Jong, D. de., & Kleemans, E. R. (2014). Relationships between suspects and victims of sex trafficking. Exploitation and domestic violence parallels in Dutch trafficking cases. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research (Online first: december 2013).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kleemans, E. R. (2009). Human smuggling and human trafficking. In M. Tonry (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of crime and public policy (pp. 409–427). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Lehti, M., & Aromaa, K. (2006). Trafficking for sexual exploitation. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and justice: A review of research (Vol. 34, pp. 133–227). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Verhoeven, M. A., van Gestel, B., & de Jong, D. (2011). Mensenhandel in de Amsterdamse raamprostitutie. Een onderzoek naar de aard en opsporing van mensenhandel. Boom Juridische Uitgevers: Den Haag.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Van Wijk, A., Nieuwenhuis, A., van Tuyn, D., van Ham, T., Kuppens, J., & Ferwerda, H. (2010). Kwetsbaar beroep. Een onderzoek naar de prostitutiebranche in Amsterdam. Bureau Beke: Arnhem.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Van Dijk, E. (2002). Mensenhandel in Nederland 1997–2000. Zoetermeer: KLPD.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Farrell, A., McDevitt, J., & Fahy, S. (2008). Understanding and improving law enforcement responses to human trafficking. Boston: Northeastern University.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Van de Bunt, H. (2004). Organised crime policies in the Netherlands. In C. Fijnaut & L. Paoli (Eds.), Organised crime in Europe. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Task Force Aanpak Mensenhandel (2009). Plan van aanpak Task Force Aanpak Mensenhandel. Available at Accessed 16 July 2013.
  23. 23.
    Chacón, J. M. (2010). Tensions and tradeoffs: protecting trafficking victims in the era of immigration enforcement. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 158, 1609–1653.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Krieg, S. H. (2009). Trafficking in human beings: The EU approach between border control, law enforcement and human rights. European Law Journal, 15(6), 775–790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    BNRM (Bureau Nationaal Rapporteur Mensenhandel). (2010). Mensenhandel – Achtste rapportage van de Nationaal Rapporteur. Den Haag: BNRM.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Werson, H., & Hertog, A. den. (2011). Korpsmonitor prostitutie & mensenhandel 2010. De Landelijke Expertgroep Mensenhandel/Politie.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Werson, H., & Hertog, A. den. (2009). Korpsmonitor prostitutie & mensenhandel 2008. De Landelijke Expertgroep Mensenhandel/Politie.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Verhoeven, M., & Van Gestel, B. (2011). Human trafficking and criminal investigations in the Amsterdam Red Light District. Trends in Organized Crime, 14, 148–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Felson, M. (2006). Crime and nature. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Sanders, T. (2008). Selling sex in the shadow economy. International Journal of Social Economics, 35(10), 704–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Emergo, P. (2011). De gezamenlijke aanpak van de zware (georganiseerde) criminaliteit in het hart van Amsterdam: achtergronden, ontwikkelingen, perspectieven. Amsterdam: Boom.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Huisman, W., & Nelen, H. (2007). Gotham unbound Dutch style: the administrative approach to organized crime in Amsterdam. Crime, Law & Social Change, 48(3), 87–103.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Kleemans, E. R. (2007). Organized crime, transit crime, and racketeering. In M. Tonry & C. J. C. Bijleveld (Eds.), Crime and Justice in the Netherlands. Crime and justice: A review of research (Vol. 35, pp. 163–215). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VU School of Criminology, Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Faculty of LawVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations