MPs back change in law to penalise clients of illegal prostitutes

Red light district in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s red light district. Photo:

A majority of MPs back plans to make it an offence to pay for prostitutes if they are known to be victims of human trafficking.

Under the proposed law, clients would face prosecution if they could be shown to have a ‘serious suspicion’ that the prostitute was working under duress. Similar laws are in place in countries such as Sweden, Finland and parts of the UK.

The Labour Party (PvdA), Socialist and Christian parties back the measure, while other groups, such as the Freedom Party (PVV) and the Liberals (VVD) support the move but have reservations about the concept of ‘serious suspicion’.

Judith Swinkels, of the centrist-liberal D66 party, said there should be clear intent on the part of the client to visit an illegal prostitute. Justice minister Ard van der Steur expressed concern that there is too much ‘legal uncertainty’ about the proposed threshold of proof, but said he would leave the decision to parliament.

Sex workers’ representatives have said changing the law would increase the risk of their customers being criminalised and do nothing to improve the safety of prostitutes. Yvette Luhrs, of Proud, told Nieuwsuur recently that her organisation was ‘absolutely against’ the idea.

‘What we hear from colleagues in Sweden is that since the introduction of the Swedish model, which makes it an offence to be a client at all, their work has become more dangerous, the stigma has increased and sex workers are less inclined to go to the police if they are being abused,’ she said.

But Christen Union party leader Gert-Jan Segers said there was more awareness of ‘the dark side of prostitution’. He said: ‘We have seen a lot of victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution and that liberalisation has not led to fewer victims, but possibly to more victims.’

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