(AMSTERDAM) — Amsterdam has long been held as the model for the modern sex industry, with prostitution legalized and rebranded as part of the leisure industry.
Until now, that is.
The tide is changing in the Netherlands, a small European country, nestled northwest of Germany on the North Sea, as over 45,000 mostly young people have signed a petition pushing to discourage prostitution by penalizing those who pay for sex — despite objection from the country’s sex workers.
Led by a social media campaign called “I Am Priceless,” the petition passed the 40,000 signatures needed to launch a debate by lawmakers in the Dutch Parliament. The signatures will be handed over to Parliament on Tuesday after they are checked to ensure they belong to eligible voters.
“The mood has changed. Buying sex is just wrong,” said Natasja Bos, one of two co-founders of the Christian and feminist-inspired protest group Exxpose, which put forward the petition. “The ‘Nordic’ model of prostitution laws, where it is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold, is in the ascendent.”
Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 1999, allowing the buying and selling of sex between “consenting adults.”
“We were trying to tell people what is really happening in prostitution because a lot of Dutch people think it is all really happy people choosing to sell sex,” Bos told ABC News.
Bos added that there are workers who want to leave the profession who were abused as children, had PTSD symptons, and were addicted to alcohol and drugs.
The number of Dutch sex workers has dropped in recent years with thousands of women, many from Eastern Europe, arriving to Amsterdam’s fabled red-light district, De Wallen, to take their place. De Wallen is a go-to place for international sex tourism, where sex workers offer their services for approximately 50 euros, or $57, officials told ABC News.
Many of the country’s sex workers disagree with the petition, though. They’re concerned that their employment and their safety will be affected.
“We are totally in shock,” said Caroline, a sex worker in Holland, whom ABC News agreed to identify by a pseudonym. “It is a petition against prostitutes, it will change the way we work. We will have to hide, to work in apartments, where we will be alone and vulnerable.
“The petition supporters are failing to distinguish between traditional prostitutes who work freely and the victims of prostitution rings,” she explained, adding that they should be helping those who are trafficking victims but not “criminalizing sex.”
A fund is to be created to offer sex workers protection, tackle trafficking and deliver short-term residence permits to foreign prostitutes who want to leave the business, a government official told ABC News. The plan is to have it in Parliament by the end of the year.
On Saturday afternoon, prostitutes took to the streets to condemn what they saw as a damper on their business, drawing support from celebrities, intellectuals and ordinary citizens. Some in the crowd described the petition as hypocritical.
“How do you justify allowing women to be prostitutes while forbidding men from turning to them?” said one protester, named Hans. “It is completely incoherent.”
In March, the government announced that night-time tours of the red-light district will be banned starting on Jan. 1, 2020.
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