Amsterdam’s Legalized Prostitution Experiment Failed, Miserably

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To paraphrase Captain Renault in Casablanca, the government in the Netherlands is shocked, shocked to find pimps and sex traffickers involved in their legalized prostitution industry! Yes, who indeed could have seen that happening?

By legalizing prostitution, the Dutch government made it legal for pimps to sell people for the sexual use of johns, the buyers. Instead of being called “pimps” or “traffickers,” the government gave them new titles – “businessmen” and “managers.” The government made the buying and selling of human beings respectable, at least as seen through their own distorted lenses.

Why would a government promote such a plan? Isn’t it obvious? To make it safer for prostitutes, of course!

You see, when prostitution is illegal, you get all sorts of nasty characters involved who buy and sell women, men, and children in the commercial sex industry, beat prostitutes at will for pleasure or to keep them in line, and make the prostitutes ashamed of themselves because they “work” in an illegal industry.

Once the Netherlands legalized prostitution, magically overnight the pimps, traffickers, and brutish johns all disappeared. They were replaced by managers, businessmen, and Richard Gere clones from Pretty Woman. Prostitutes lined up outside of government assistance offices to register as prostitutes, pay their fair share of the taxes, and avail themselves of all sorts of government services to make their lives better, especially after incidents now classified as “occupational hazards,” formally known as “abuse.”

Why didn’t this utopian plan work? This is what occurs when fuzzy, feel-good policies are promoted in the face of common sense and the dark side of human nature.

Julie Bindel, in the U.K. Spectator, exposes the ugly truth of this epic failure.

Since the Netherland’s grand experiment began in 2000, Bindel points out that women are still abused, the commercial sex industry is expanding, prostitutes are not joining the government-funded union created to “protect” them (because they are “too scared to complain”), sex tourism is on the rise, women are being imported (read “trafficked”) into the country to meet the increasing demand created by legalization, children are being exploited in the industry, and only five percent of the women signed up to pay taxes “because no one wants to be known as a whore,” even if the government condones it.

Illegal brothels, pimping, and trafficking have flourished, because the government luminaries ignored the basic principle that when you remove legal and judicial institutions from the picture, the void is filled by criminals.

While the object lesson in bad judgment plays out in the Netherlands, United States lawmakers should take note. Recently, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Amendment 21, which was part of S. 47, the Violence Against Women Act of 2013. Senate Amendment 21 is a slightly different version of Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vermont) Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011, which died at the end of the last Congress.

One of the provisions in this bill seeks to change the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Model State Criminal Provisions on Pimping, Pandering, and Prostitution, which is model legislation the DOJ promotes to the states. The change would, in effect, decriminalize prostitution for minors, meaning the DOJ will encourage states to no longer make it illegal for minors to engage in selling sex. It would still be illegal for people to buy or sell minors in commercial sex transactions. The thought behind this move is to ensure that minor victims of sex trafficking are not subject to stigmatizing arrest and prosecution.

While no one wants victims arrested and prosecuted, it is important to keep law enforcement involved in the process. As it is, according to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, there were only 763 arrests of minors in the United States for “prostitution and commercialized vice” crimes in 2011. As the Dutch experiment showed, when you take away legal restrictions, prostitution expands. Will more minors be exploited in the U.S. if prostitution for minors is decriminalized?

If prostitution is decriminalized for minors, it will provide a great recruiting tool for pimps and gangs to tell minors they cannot be arrested. With no charges pending, it will be very difficult to keep victims in programs designed to help them (which states are beginning to create as an alternative to juvenile justice programs) if the victims do not wish to stay. Essentially, treatment will be voluntary for minors, and very few of them will self-identify as a victim. At the first opportunity, many will leave the program and run right back to their exploiter.

Some U.S. states have already decriminalized prostitution for minors. Will they see more minors exploited? If the Dutch experiment is a guide, the answer is “yes.”

Lawmakers in the Netherlands got it wrong by legalizing prostitution. Legalizing or decriminalizing it only leads to criminals taking advantage of a much more lenient environment and exploiting it.

The only way to help people trapped in the commercial sex industry is to work to abolish it.

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