Buro Brycx: for advice about sex work in The Netherlands

Working in the sexindustry in The Netherlands                  

Sexwork is legal in The Netherlands. If you want to work in the sexindustry in The Netherlands, please consider these rules and regulations:

>  You have to be at least 18 years old. In certain cities you have to be older than 21 years.  As of  the end of 2014 everyone in the sexindustry in The Netherlands has to be older than 21 years.

>  If you are from a country within the European Union you have to be registered in the GBA (Personal Records Database of your local municipality)  and with the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation Service)

>  You have to have a social security number and have to pay taxes

>  You have to have your own Dutch bank account

>  You have to arrange your own health insurance

>  If you are going to be self employed, you are not automatically insured for disability insurance

>  People from outside the European Union are not allowed to work in the sexindustry in The Netherlands. If –however- you have a residence permit with free access to the Dutch labour market, you are allowed to work in prostitution.

 If you want to report any signs of coercion or abuse in prostitution anonymously, please call 0800-7000. Anonymity guaranteed!    


More information about

Immigration (IND)

Personal Records Database (GBA)

Working Safely

Health Centre Amsterdam

Health Centre Den Haag

Health Centre Rotterdam

Health Centre Utrecht


Paid employment

Social Security


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Report Crime Anonymously







Sex work in The Netherlands

The oldest profession in the world?

Prostitution is as old as humanity itself. The first written evidence about prostitution is written on clay tablets from about 4000 years ago. Sources from ancient Mesopotamia (current Iraq) tell us about prostitutes who were working under strict and regulated conditions. The Code of Hammurabi describes how sex workers had to work in certain areas of the city (eg. near the city walls) and how they were not allowed to cover up their hair and head (so they could not be mistaken for married women).

A different phenomenon was ‘sacred prostitution’ where women would have paid sex with men in temple areas, in order to please the gods.

In short: the world of the Old Testament was familiar with sex work and it was regulated by the state.

Later, in ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek societies the situation remained more or less the same. In Latin, the language of antique Rome, the word ‘prostituta’ meant: ‘upfront’  and  ‘unveiled / with uncovered faces’.


Why is there a Red Light District in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam became an important and wealthy trade center at the end of the 16th century. The ships of the East India Company (VOC) constantly sailed off to and arrived from the Far East, loaded with spices and goods. On board were men who had not seen a –Dutch- woman in 2 years and who received their wages. The Dam square, in the center of the city, was the harbor area where the ships came in. This is where sex workers concentrated. The city of Amsterdam condoned sex work and this has resulted in the origin of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Sex work was performed in houses, on the street and in brothels. Certain community officials were allowed to have brothels, others were not.


What happened after the Dutch Golden Age?

After the 17th century Dutch policy and opinion about sex work shifted constantly. During some decades sex work was condoned, or even regulated. Around 1800 there were a lot of colorful brothels in of Amsterdam, sometimes disguised as dancehalls, sometimes recognizable by a colored lantern near the door. After the invasion of the French, the officials demanded the sex workers to be registered at the police office, after which they received a red card. With this they had to visit police doctors every week, in order to be medically checked. If a woman appeared to be ill, her red card was exchanged for a white one, with her disease written on it. It was not allowed to work as a sex worker without a red card. Violation of the rules led to detention in a ‘re-education center’. In those days around 800 women were registered in Amsterdam as a sex worker.

In 1895 a commission was installed which had to investigate the working conditions of sex workers in Amsterdam. They found that ‘most women were treated as sex slaves’. Thus brothels were closed in Amsterdam. Ofcourse sex work continued to take place, on different locations now, or under different definitions (brothels now being a hotel, or a sewing workshop).


Since when are women working behind windows in the Red Light District?

In the beginning of the 20th century the first windows with sex workers behind it appeared in Amsterdam. This phenomenon grew in the 1960’s. Various cities in The Netherlands adopted this concept.


Why are there no men behind the windows in Amsterdam?

People are asking frequently why there are no men behind the windows in Amsterdam. This has various reasons. The most important one is that the owner of the windows are afraid that the appearance of men behind the windows will scare the men away who are interested in women behind a window. And thus they do no allow men to rent a room. The other reason is that women appear to have different methods in ‘choosing a man for sexual purposes’ and are less attracted by such open display (at least, so they say). In 2007 there was an experiment with men behind the windows in Amsterdam. It was no success.


Since when is sex work legal in The Netherlands?

As opposed to what we read in the media, sex work was not legalized in 2000, but already in 1911. Although it was legal, people were not allowed to start or own a brothel in those days. Sex work was allowed only by mutual consent.


So what happened in 2000?

In 2000 the ban on owning a brothel was lifted. The idea was that it would improve working conditions for sex workers, because health organizations and officials of the police and municipality could get in touch with all sex workers. Brothel owners should have to work according to Dutch laws and could be checked on that.

After 2000 the situation did not improve for sex workers though. Working conditions had not improved and sex workers were still not able to anonymously obtain an individual license for sex work. The result is that they had to work under the license of a brothel-, window- or escort owner. Which gave them a monopoly position.


Which sex worker rights organizations exist in The Netherlands?

Since the 1970’s groups of feminists and (ex) sex workers joined forces in the fight for justice and human rights for sex workers. Individual sex workers find it hard to publicly open up about violation of rights, because of the stigma on the profession. In 1985 the Red Thread (de Rode Draad) started as a foundation which would unite and raise their voices against injustice. They would perform lobby practices at municipalities and with politicians. As an outreach organization the people of The Red Thread contacted all legal (and a lot of illegal) working sex workers in The Netherlands frequently. Sex workers trusted the people at the organization and came in for advice or help. The Red Thread advised policy makers and human rights organizations about the experiences and needs of sex workers. Unfortunately the organization had to end all activities in 2011 because of a lack of funding.

In Amsterdam Foundation Geisha  ( is currently lobbying for the rights of sex workers.


What is the difference between The Red Thread and The Red Umbrella Fund?

The Red Umbrella Fund is no outreach organization. It is a global grant giving mechanism which focuses on the capacity development of sex worker organizations around the globe. The Red Umbrella Fund is based in Amsterdam.


What about a new prostitution law?

In 2006 the lifting on the ban of brothel owning was evaluated. Various reports (, ) concluded that in the period following the legalisation of brothels the number of licensed sex businesses in The Netherlands had declined. A number of sex workers stopped working in legal clubs. There was a growing competition through the internet and the number of legal clubs decreased. The number of sex workers not working under a license had increased though. And a growing number of sex workers appeared to be working under forced circumstances, the research center of the government stated.

A study about the social position of sex workers reports about how sex workers still don’t have the social benefits and rights the people with different professions have.   ( )

 Sex workers are still unable to obtain a disability insurance, a bank loan, or a mortgage. Nobody wants to be associated with sex work.

And every research institute or journalist was writing about the supposed high numbers of human trafficking cases.

A new ‘prostitution law’  was proposed by Dutch politics. Human trafficking needed to be prevented and eradicated. It was suggested that sex workers should register at a national register, in order for municipalities to keep track on their activities. Clients of sex workers should verify if a sex worker was being registered. Ofcourse sex workers protested heavily against this and after many years of debate the Dutch Senate rejected the proposal in 2013.

What remains is that in the near future the minimum age for sex workers will be raised from 18 to 21 years and that municipalities will have to have a policy on prostitution. Furthermore owners of sex businesses will have to be registered in a national register, in order to prevent mobility of malfunctioning brothels or escort services.


What is to be expected?

Every new law in our country is evaluated after 3 years. Preparations for the evaluation of the proposed prostitution law are already made. Sex worker rights activists expect that the new prostitution law won’t improve much for sex workers. It will probably not diminish the cases of human trafficking.

Various political parties are already waiting for a chance to change the legalized sex work system. Some parties are in favor of the so called ‘Swedish Model’ in sex work. In this model (which is a law in Sweden, Iceland, Norway and in preparation in France) sex work itself is not criminalized, but the clients of sex workers are. Sweden regards the system to be very successful because ‘ the number of sex workers in the streets have decreased’, government officials state. Sex worker rights activists however say that sex work is now taking place in different and unseen places, which results in more violence against sex workers and less access to services and support for sex workers.

Sex worker rights activists are worrying about the situation in Europe. Once reasonably liberal, various powerful lobby groups are trying to influence politics now, even on a European level. Early 2014 the European Parliament accepted a report from a lobby group in which they are pleading for an implementation of the Swedish System in Europe. Sex workers fear that individual countries will follow this development.


Have the numbers of human trafficking increased since the ban on brothel owning was lifted in 2000?

Nobody knows exact figures but human rights activists believe this is not true. The attention for the phenomenon has grown, which is good. This has led to higher numbers of victims and an increase in convictions.