Below you will find an overview of frequently asked questions about the Red Light District and prostitution in Amsterdam.
1) Is prostitution legal in Amsterdam and the Netherlands?
In 2000, the Dutch ban on brothels was lifted and replaced by a licensing system. This means that prostitution has become a legal means of generating income.
A new prostitution bill is currently being addressed by the Dutch Parliament.
Enabling legislation for prostitution is currently being addressed by the Upper House of the Dutch Parliament. The new legislation would require prostitutes to join a national register and raise the minimum age for work in the sector from 18 to 21 years old. The new law would also mean that those visiting prostitutes working illegally would be criminally liable and owners of buildings where prostitution takes place could be held accountable for repeat violations. A national register would also be set up to record refused and revoked licenses for businesses active in the prostitution industry. In Amsterdam, an estimated 5,500 prostitutes would initially be required to register.
2) What is the legal age for prostitution?
In July 2013, the minimum legal age to be permitted to work as a prostitute was raised from 18 to 21. Increasing the legal age is part of a set of measures designed to tackle abuse in the prostitution industry and strengthen the position of prostitutes. The City of Amsterdam believes that people aged 21 are better able to make a well-considered decision about working as a prostitute than those aged 18 as well as being better able to cope with working in the industry.
3) Why has prostitution been legalised in the Netherlands?
Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000. Before then, prostitution was technically illegal although it was tolerated. To help stop abuse in the sex industry, the Netherlands decided to change the law to reflect everyday reality. By legalising prostitution, the government sought to gain more control of the industry and thereby bring an end to a range of abuses that had been occurring, including the exploitation of children and forced prostitution. The move would also give prostitutes better access to health and social services. Prostitution from fixed locations (brothels) was legalised through the introduction of a municipal licensing system. This meant that councils could demand that mobile prostitutes (escorts) also applied for a licence.
When the ban on brothels was lifted, municipalities gained responsibility for their own prostitution policy.
More information on prostitution in the Netherlands.
4) What happened after prostitution was legalised in 2000?
The licensing system has helped to make the prostitution industry more transparent and brought about a sharp reduction in illegal practices and the exploitation of children. However, legalising prostitution proved to be insufficient to bring a complete stop to abuse in the sex industry. Women continued to be exploited through forced prostitution and human trafficking. Amsterdam has announced a number of measures to bring an end to this. Unlicensed escort agency activities were made illegal on 1 February 2008. Research shows that the escort industry in the city has grown significantly in recent years in Amsterdam, and has possibly even doubled in size. The introduction of escort industry licensing provides the local authorities with a tool for fighting abuse in the sector. A national licensing system for the escort industry is currently being prepared.
5) What forms of prostitution are there in Amsterdam?
There are many different forms of prostitution in Amsterdam. In the Amsterdam prostitution industry, there are prostitutes who work in a window, in a club or a ‘private house’ (a sex club without a bar), as escorts, at home or on the street.
6) Which forms of prostitution are legal and which are illegal?
a. Legal (with a licence)
Since the ban on brothels was lifted, part of the industry is regulated through licences issued in terms of general municipal by-laws. Window prostitution, brothels, ‘private houses’ and escort services through agencies are legal. That is to say: if they have a licence. Owners and operators of prostitution businesses also require a licence and the police carry out regular checks to ensure they comply with the regulations. The most important rules are that women may not be forced to work as prostitutes, that they must be of the legal age and be a legal resident of the Netherlands.
b. Legal (without a licence)
Prostitution at home does not fall within the scope of the licence policy as long as the prostitute works alone and non-commercially. The City of Amsterdam calls this: Legal Without a Licence. Commercial prostitution at home is illegal. This means, for example, that if multiple prostitutes work in the same house or a prostitute advertises on the internet, their activities are illegal.
Illegal prostitution has many forms: street prostitution, illegal escorting, illegal home prostitution and sex in massage parlours. If looking for sexual services on the internet, we strongly recommend checking if there is a licence number on the website.
7) How many people work as prostitutes in Amsterdam?
It is not clear exactly how many people work as prostitutes in Amsterdam but estimates have been made of between 5,000 and 8,000. It is also not clear how many women or men work in the legal and illegal sectors.
8) What is the objective of the City of Amsterdam's prostitution policy?
The City of Amsterdam became responsible for their own prostitution policy when the ban on brothels was lifted in 2000.
Prostitution is allowed, but it must take place in a legal and transparent manner. Amsterdam wants to end criminal activities, such as the abuse of women, money laundering and human trafficking. Legalising prostitution proved to be insufficient to bring a complete stop to abuse in the sex industry.
In July 2013, Amsterdam introduced additional measures to combat abuse in the prostitution industry. The minimum legal age for prostitutes was increased from 18 to 21 years. Brothel windows are now required to close at night between 06:00 and 08:00 and window brothel operators are also required to draft a business plan setting out how they ensure good working conditions for the prostitutes. Prostitute healthcare services have been further professionalised and expanded to include escorts and prostitutes who visit private homes. Authorities will act sooner and collaborate internationally if there are suspicions of forced prostitution or human trafficking.
Press release on City of Amsterdam strategy to tackle prostitution.
Watch a film of the Mayor of Amsterdam explaining the rules:
9) What is the history of the Red Light District in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam has a number of streets where prostitutes can be seen in windows, the best known being 'de Wallen' (‘the Quays’). In English, the world-famous district is commonly known as the Red Light District, because of the red lights that hang in the prostitutes’ windows. The area has historically been an important centre of prostitution: the district was assigned to prostitutes for the plying of their trade as long ago as 1413.
Extended FAQ on the Red Light District and prostitution in Amsterdam.