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Law and order
26 February 2013

Legalising prostitution hasn’t worked and nor would legalising drugs

Last year, the Deep End featured a Julie Bindel article on prostitution. In a more recent article for the Spectator, she covers the same issue – in particular the failure of legalisation in the Netherlands – but makes some useful additional points.

Advocates of liberalisation – whether of the law on prostitution, drug dealing or some other undesirable activity – like to argue that criminalisation only drives the problem ‘underground’. This rather ignores the possibility that ‘underground’ might be the best place for it.

For instance, Amsterdam’s red light district was internationally infamous long before the legalisation of the brothel trade – but at least it was contained:

  • “Twelve years on, and we can now see the results of this experiment. Rather than afford better protection for the women, it has simply increased the market. Rather than confine the brothels to a discrete (and avoidable) part of the city, the sex industry has spilt out all over Amsterdam — including on-street.”
  • “...nowhere else in the world is street prostitution legal, because people do not want it in plain sight. Where there is a street sex trade, women are accosted on their way home by punters, and often condoms, drugs paraphernalia and pimps are visible.”

On the hand, bringing a problem out into the open does allow a degree of regulation and drives out the criminal element – doesn’t it? 

That’s not what happened in Amsterdam:

  • “Rather than be given rights in the ‘workplace’, the prostitutes have found the pimps are as brutal as ever. The government-funded union set up to protect them has been shunned by the vast majority of prostitutes, who remain too scared to complain.
  • “...the pimps remained but became legit — violence was still prevalent but part of the job, and trafficking increased. Support for the women to leave prostitution became almost nonexistent. The innate murkiness of the job has not been washed away by legal benediction.”

Liberals seem to imagine that, upon a change in the law, thousands of decent, upright citizens will suddenly come forward to serve the community as caring, responsible pimps and drug dealers who pay their taxes, recognise unions and recycle their rubbish. After all, why become a teacher or a doctor when you could be persuading vulnerable young people to sell their bodies or buy your crystal meth?

Then again, isn’t it possible that the criminals who currently control these trades will decide to stay put, adapting both to the challenges and to the opportunities of the new situation? 

As Julie Bindel makes clear, the main impact of legalisation in Holland has been to provide criminals with cover:

  • “Illegality has simply taken a new form, with an increase in trafficking, unlicensed brothels and pimping; with policing completely out of the picture, it was easier to break the laws that remained. To pimp out women from non-EU countries, desperate for a new life, remains illegal. But it’s never been easier.”


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