In the port of Amsterdam
There’s a sailor who drinks
And he drinks and he drinks
And he drinks once again
He drinks to the health
Of the whores of Amsterdam
Who have promised their love
To a thousand other men. - Jacques Brel, “Amsterdam”
With all this talk of the “Nordic Model” lately, I think it’s sad that the neofeminists and the blinkered asses we call politicians whom they ride upon can’t seem to turn their gaze a little to the southwest, across the North Sea to the Netherlands. The Dutch treatment of prostitutes isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s vastly better than the Nordic Model and centuries more advanced than the barbaric American model. And though abolitionists and bluenoses have repeatedly tried (and still continue to try) to suppress our trade, such prohibitions have never really caught on in the historically tolerant Netherlands.
Like most European governments, the Dutch tolerated prostitution throughout the Middle Ages because it was recognized as a “necessary evil” which prevented male sexual passion from getting out of control. Some cities tried to ban it within the city walls, but in 1413 these prohibitionist decrees were themselves prohibited in Amsterdam by a law which stated, “Because whores are necessary in big cities and especially in cities of commerce such as ours – indeed it is far better to have these women than not to have them – and also because the holy church tolerates whores on good grounds, for these reasons the court and sheriff of Amsterdam shall not entirely forbid the keeping of brothels.” It’s amazing how much wiser and more socially progressive Dutch authorities were 600 years ago than American authorities are now, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, this did not last; in the 16th century the rise of Protestantism and occupation by Spain resulted in prohibitionist laws, which in turn resulted in official pimping as it always does. This ended in 1578, when the city of Amsterdam rebelled against Spain, became officially Calvinist and stopped regulating prostitution. Though a number of anti-whore laws were passed throughout the 17th century, they were unpopular and impossible to enforce and so the police rarely bothered to try; though moralists tried to portray whores as degraded, in paintings they were depicted as beautiful. But as in the United States 200 years later, bluenosed Protestant middle-class morality eventually came to dominate Dutch thinking, and a series of prohibitionist laws (including bans on condoms and other methods of birth and disease control) made the working conditions for Dutch harlots steadily worse until Napoleon conquered the country and instituted mandatory registration and medical examination in 1810 in order to protect his soldiers against venereal diseases. These laws were largely continued after Napoleon, but after the Social Purity movement invaded the Netherlands regulation was replaced by abolitionism as it was in the U.S.
But even then, the Dutch hardheadedly refused to join the lemming-stampede of full prohibition so popular elsewhere; though “living on the avails of prostitution” and owning a brothel were banned in 1911, prostitution itself was not prohibited. As before, these laws proved unpopular and were rarely enforced, and by the 1970s the Dutch government formally adopted the gedoogbeleid (policy of tolerance) on the grounds that attempting to suppress consensual “vices” such as prostitution and drug use does not work and only harms the people it attempts to control. In 1985 Dutch prostitutes founded a rights group named The Red Thread which was highly instrumental in the official legalization of prostitution in January of 1988, but full legalization of brothels took much longer and was only accomplished on October 1, 2000 (at which time the Dutch union FNV began accepting prostitutes as members). Polls show that 78% of Dutch people now consider prostitution to be a job like any other.
In the past few years, however, gangsters from Eastern Europe and Muslim countries have moved into Amsterdam, bringing illegal prostitutes with them. This has of course armed neofeminists and the few prohibitionist politicians (who as elsewhere try to equate voluntary adult prostitution with enslaved underage girls smuggled into the country), and as a result it has become more difficult to get a brothel license and in 2006 the license renewals of 30 established brothels was denied (forcing them to appeal). International news media have produced propaganda and exaggerated stories as they do everywhere, and in March 2007 the famous De Wallen red-light district held an open house day and unveiled a statue honoring prostitutes world-wide. But the hysteria has continued; in September 2007 the city bought several buildings in the red light district and closed about a third of the famous windows, then by the end of 2008 the Mayor announced plans to close a further 200 windows because of “suspected criminal gang activity”. He also closed some of the city’s 70 marijuana cafes and sex clubs, saying “It is not that we want to get rid of our red-light district. We want to reduce it. Things have become unbalanced and if we do not act we will never regain control.” Perhaps that is true, but at the same time a host of new ID and zoning regulations have appeared in the past year and “human trafficking” fanatics have made Amsterdam one of their chief targets. I don’t think abolition is in the works; the Dutch have never taken kindly to it, public opinion is against it and the Dutch prostitutes are too well-organized to permit it. But until prostitution is truly legalized in nearby de facto prohibitionist countries like the UK and France and full-prohibitionist countries like Norway, Sweden and the former Soviet Bloc, there will continue to be problems in the Netherlands. What the abolitionists are trying to represent as a failure in Dutch housekeeping is actually nothing of the kind; even if one’s own house is perfectly clean, if it is surrounded on all sides by filthy neighbors it is inevitable that it will become infested with vermin.
In the meantime, business in De Wallen goes on as usual; in every hotel room there is a free visitor’s guide which contains the following paragraph under the “Police and safety” section: If you visit one of the women, we would like to remind you, they are not always women. Out on the streets, do not shout or use bad language towards these women. Show some respect. If you have any problems with a girl or a pimp, do not hesitate to ask a police officer. We know why you are there and you can hardly surprise us. It is against the law and very dangerous to solicit prostitution on the streets. I find this paragraph interesting on several counts; the first line refers to the fact that roughly 5% of Dutch prostitutes are male (some of them dressed in drag) and another 5% transsexual; a 1997 report showed that of the 1300 male prostitutes essentially all were homosexual prostitutes (just as everyplace else, women don’t pay for sex in Amsterdam). The next line is obviously necessary because of the large number of Brits and Americans who don’t know how to conduct themselves properly around whores, and the last line reflects the arbitrary nature of prostitution regulations: In Amsterdam outdoor prostitution (i.e. streetwalking) is illegal, while in countries with anti-brothel (“bawdy house”) laws it’s the exact opposite!
Until such time as all prohibitions against women doing as we like with our own bodies are removed everywhere, there will continue to be problems associated with prostitution which are not generally associated with other professions (including pimping and sex slavery). And even once that time comes, there will always be a traffic in underage girls just as there will always be traffic in child pornography, dangerous drugs, stolen goods, blackmail information, slaves and other evils. The world is a harsh, unfair and dangerous place and will never be otherwise no matter what fanatics may think, but once consensual behaviors and harmless vices are brought into the open as they have been in Amsterdam, the police are free to pursue real crime which hurts people and legitimate sex or “vice” businesses can assist the state in controlling criminals, just as bars in the United States help prevent underage drinking. As I said at the beginning, the Dutch model is far from perfect, but compared to the sexist tyranny which pollutes the “Land of the Free” it’s a veritable Utopia.