Over the last 20 years, the governments of various Western nations have significantly changed their approach to managing prostitution and street solicitation. Several have attempted to tackle the problem through revised legislation. Little consensus exists, however, with regard to the most appropriate legislative response; and in various countries, attempts to adopt new laws (whether to enact or dismantle criminal legislation) have met with fierce controversy.
In June 2003, for instance, the New Zealand Parliament repealed a series of century-old laws prohibiting
soliciting, running brothels, and living off the avails of prostitution. The private member’s bill passed
by a margin of only one vote: 60 to 59, with one abstention.
In contrast, France, which licensed brothels during the 19th and early 20th centuries, has
recently begun to move towards criminalizing more aspects of the prostitution trade.
In Canada, there has been long-standing debate over the role of the Criminal Code in controlling
and/or regulating prostitution. The divergence of opinion in this country over prostitution and street
solicitation is perhaps most visible in the large number of special review committees created and laws passed
at every level of government over the past two decades.
On the surface, there appears to be little, if any, common ground among the diverse legislative directions
taken by the countries and states examined in this paper. Nonetheless, their governments are largely
wrestling with the same set of issues and seeking to balance two often-competing sets of responsibilities.
On the one hand, they attempt to prevent the exploitation of persons selling sexual services
by pimps and clients. On the other, they aim to eliminate the increased crime (e.g., illegal drug consumption)
and “nuisance” (noise, traffic, etc.) that prostitution creates in communities where it takes place.
The following questions underlie a wide range of government reports, critics’ analyses, and specific pieces
Protecting Sex Workers
- How can persons involved in prostitution be shielded from violence and exploitation? How can sex workers more easily contact the authorities when they need help?
- How can the involvement of organized crime in prostitution be reduced? How can pimping be controlled?
- How can persons selling sexual services and their clients be protected from the health risks associated with the trade?
- How can prostitutes’ working conditions be improved?
- How can trafficking and the exploitation of young people be prevented?
- How can prostituted persons be helped to leave the industry if they so choose?
- How can the “nuisance” aspects associated with prostitution be reduced?
- Should the criminal justice system be targeting particular sectors of the prostitution industry?
- How can the ancillary crime typically associated with prostitution (for example, drug dealing) be prevented?
This paper reviews the key legislative approaches to prostitution in a number of Western jurisdictions. In particular, it examines the specific laws and/or regulations these countries and states have instituted, and how they have fared in meeting their objectives.
Overview of Different Legislative Approaches
Each of the countries and states examined in this paper relies on a variation of one of the following five
approaches to prostitution:
Prohibitionism seeks to eliminate prostitution by criminalizing all aspects of the prostitution
trade. Under this approach, prostitution is seen as a violation of human dignity. Criminal law and effective
law enforcement are viewed as critical tools in reducing the number of individuals involved in prostitution.
Decriminalization implies the repeal of prostitution-related criminal law. In Canada, decriminalization would involve repealing all criminal law relating to prostitution, including communicating for the purposes of prostitution, operating a bawdy house and/or brothel, and living off the avails of prostitution.
Legalization refers to the regulation of prostitution through criminal law or some other type of legislation. This approach treats prostitution as a legal occupation, but nevertheless controls it by a set of rules that govern who can work and under what circumstances they may do so. Typically, governments that have adopted the legalization approach regulate the trade through work permits, licensing and/or tolerance zones.
Abolitionism is often described as the middle ground between prohibitionism and legalization. Advocates of this approach maintain that even though prostitutes may choose to enter the trade, it is nevertheless immoral. They believe that governments must take the necessary steps to allow prostitution to take place only as long as it does not infringe on public safety and order. Generally, abolitionists call for the criminalization of public solicitation.
Neo-abolitionism holds that prostitution violates a person’s human rights. Advocates maintain that there is no such thing as free choice in this matter – prostitution in all its forms constitutes the sale and consumption of human bodies. While neo-abolitionists call for the decriminalization of prostitutes themselves, they encourage governments to criminalize the activities of procurers and customers.
Responsibility for criminal legislation in Australia falls primarily on individual states. States may take very different approaches towards the management and regulation of prostitution, as exemplified by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the state of Victoria.
A. Australian Capital Territory (Decriminalization With Controls)
In 1992, the ACT adopted the Prostitution Act, aimed at managing the worst effects of the prostitution industry.
While the Prostitution Act decriminalizes prostitution in private spaces, it nevertheless sets up a series
of regulations designed to protect sex workers and the public at large. Its goals are to:
- maintain public health;
- protect the health and safety of prostitutes;
- limit the operation of brothels to particular places; and
- eliminate the sexual exploitation of children.
Unlike most other Australian states (such as Victoria), the ACT does not license prostitutes, brothels, or
escort agencies. Rather, it requires members of the prostitution industry to register with the Registrar
of Brothels and Escort Agencies. Registration is not difficult, nor is it a particularly lengthy process.
Every year, individuals who wish to register themselves or their businesses must provide their contact
information to the Registrar and pay a small fee. According to the government of the ACT, registration is
preferable to licensing because of its ease and efficiency.
By all accounts, the registration system appears to be meeting its goals. While the ACT (like many other
Australian states) continues to prohibit street solicitation, very little of it seems to occur in practice.
As Sullivan points out, “this is probably because other employment opportunities in the sex industry are
Moreover, due to the relative straightforwardness of the registration process, there appear to be very few
illegal brothels and escort agencies.
Until 2002, the Registrar of Brothels and Escort Agencies did not have the authority to deny registration
to any prospective owners of such establishments. Critics charged that the ACT allowed “undesirables” to
enter the prostitution industry, particularly those who had been involved in criminal activity.
As a result, the government introduced an amendment to the Prostitution Act in 2002, requiring employers
and operators to submit to a criminal background check. Any individual convicted of a “disqualifying
offence” is currently not permitted to own or operate a brothel or escort agency. The “disqualifying
offences” listed in the schedules of the Prostitution Act include assault, murder, sexual assault and
involvement in child pornography and exploitation.
Another key objective of the Prostitution Act is to safeguard the health of persons involved in prostitution
and the community at large. The Act includes several provisions designed to stem the transmission of
HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Prostitutes employed in brothels and escort agencies
must undergo mandatory STD testing. Those infected with an STD are prohibited from providing sexual services,
and owners and managers of brothels and escort agencies must not allow an employee to work if that person is infected.
While some critics have denounced compulsory medical testing, many have applauded the government’s attempt to
make all parties responsible for preventing STD transmission.
Rather than targeting just the person selling sexual services, the Prostitution Act makes it illegal for anyone
to “provide or receive commercial sexual services” knowing that they are infected with an STD. Consequently,
sex workers are believed to be in a better position to resist pressure from their clients (and/or their employers)
not to use a condom.
The Sexual Services Industry Code of Practice was first introduced in 1999 for the further protection of sex
workers and their clients.
Employers and/or operators of brothels and escort agencies are required to provide facilities that meet
health and safety standards. The standards, which were developed by a collective of sex workers, police
officers and health officials, include regulations on cleanliness and safety, as well as the purchase and
disposal of “personal protective equipment” (such as condoms and other prophylactics). There remains some
concern, however, that not all members of the prostitution industry are aware of their rights and
responsibilities. One organization, Workers in Sex Employment (WISE), has called upon the government to
take “a [more] proactive role in the education of brothel owners and sex workers.”
Barbara Sullivan, one of the foremost scholars on prostitution in Australia, argues that, in sum, “[t]here are
some clear advantages to the ACT system.” There appear to be very few illegal brothels and very little
street solicitation. Brothels are largely confined to industrial areas, because of the ACT’s zoning
requirements. Moreover, prostitutes’ advocacy groups are satisfied with the ACT’s focus on occupational
health and safety. A collective of stakeholders in the sex industry continues to consult the government on
In assessing the ACT’s approach, it is important to note the Territory’s distinctive history with regard to this issue. Even before 1992, the ACT pursued a policy of toleration and control. Persons involved in prostitution were not charged unless a complaint had been lodged. Moreover, sex workers already enjoyed a fairly cordial relationship with the police and other community members. According to Sullivan,
The good relations which prevail between the industry, the government and the public … are
probably unique in Australia. Only in Canberra do brothels organise well-attended public
open-days (complete with barbeque) and host contemporary art shows ...
It is likely, therefore, that this history helped to iron out issues that could have provoked much more controversy in some other parts of Australia, such as Victoria.
B. Victoria (Legalization)
While some forms of prostitution have been permitted in Victoria since 1986, the sex industry is currently
governed by the Prostitution Control Act, which came into force in 1995.
Some debate remains, however, over exactly what approach Victoria has chosen to take. While some
commentators refer to the Prostitution Control Act as “decriminalisation with controls,”
others suggest it more closely resembles legalization.
Regardless of the definition, it is clear that the government of the state of Victoria seeks to control
the sex industry through legislation.
The government sets out a number of aims in the introduction to the Prostitution Control Act (1994).
- to prevent the sexual exploitation of children as well as limit their exposure to the prostitution industry;
- to shield communities from the negative aspects associated with prostitution;
- to reduce criminal involvement in the running of the prostitution industry; and
- to safeguard the occupational health and safety of prostitutes while protecting their clients from any health risks.
Contrary to the situation in the ACT, however, questions have arisen from all sides about whether the
Prostitution Control Act
is actually meeting its goals. Critics have questioned the Act’s ability to
ensure that sex workers are provided with proper working conditions, as well as its capacity to shut
down illegal brothels and escort agencies.
In Victoria, individuals and businesses selling sexual services are required to be licensed. The licensing
process is much more in-depth than registration in the ACT. The Business Licensing Authority requires
prospective owners to submit to a police check and an assessment of their financial affairs. More generally,
the Prostitution Control Act requires applicants (and their associates) to be “of good repute, having regard
to character, honesty and integrity.” These requirements are designed in part to prevent organized crime
from infiltrating the prostitution industry. The government also hopes that licensing will prevent
individuals from flouting the regulations set out by the Prostitution Control Act and the state’s occupational
health and safety code.
Sole operators and two-person brothels are exempt, and thus do not have to apply for a licence.
Some critics argue that Victoria’s licensing system discourages prostitutes from setting up their own small
brothels. The stringent licensing requirements are one deterrent. Another is the often-high costs of running
a legal brothel or escort agency.
According to the Business Licensing Authority, the annual licensing fee for a brothel with more than two
people starts at A$2,218.90 (approximately C$1,735). It costs prostitution service providers another A$416.10
(C$315) for each additional room.
All brothel owners must comply with specific regulations dealing with cleanliness and hygiene, as outlined
in the Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations.
Yet another critical factor in discouraging sex workers from starting their own businesses is the requirement
for all brothels and escort agencies (whether large or small) to obtain a planning permit from their local
city council. While city councils are not permitted to deny prospective owners a permit on moral grounds,
they must follow the strict zoning requirements outlined in the Prostitution Control Act.
Prostitution establishments are prohibited from operating in any residential neighbourhood and must be
located more than 200 metres away from any school, hospital or place of worship. Prostitutes who live in
residential areas are thus forbidden to establish a business in their own homes. Moreover, the strict
limits attached to the planning permits tend to facilitate the development of large brothels at the expense
of small ones.
Consequently, critics argue, legal prostitution in Victoria tends to be monopolized by large, expensive
For example, the Daily Planet in Melbourne operates a hotel-style facility with 18 rooms. Its management
estimates that between 100 and 150 women work there regularly.
Currently, an estimated 100 licensed brothels operate in Victoria.
Those unable or unwilling to work either in large or “exempt” legal brothels must risk significant criminal
penalties by either running their own illegal brothel or engaging in street solicitation.
Critics have also questioned Victoria’s approach to prostitution in light of the seemingly uncontrollable
expansion of illegal prostitution within its borders. Estimates in 2003 suggested that up to 400 illegal
brothels were operating in the state.
Communities across the state have called upon the government to strengthen the Prostitution Control Act in
the hope of cracking down on unlawful prostitution.
Street solicitation is also a major problem in Victoria.
The government of Victoria continues to grapple with how best to regulate, and ultimately control, the
prostitution industry. While the Prostitution Control Act was designed to curb many of the most
harmful aspects of prostitution (including street solicitation, criminal involvement in the trade, and
risks to health and safety), it is not clear that the legislation has achieved its desired effect. Neither
sex workers’ rights groups nor community organizations have been particularly supportive of the law since
its inception. Nevertheless, it does not appear that the state is planning to revamp its approach to
prostitution in the near future. Rather, the government appears to be concentrating its efforts on
enforcing the current provisions of the Act, in the hope of bringing about long-term social change.
New Zealand (Decriminalization)
In June 2003, New Zealand undertook radical reforms to its prostitution laws, decriminalizing adult
prostitution by repealing a series of century-old laws prohibiting solicitation, operation of a brothel,
and living off the avails of prostitution. The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA)
was introduced as a private member’s bill following many years of debate, and passed in Parliament by
only one vote (60 to 59, with one abstention). Before the bill was adopted, prostitution had not been
illegal in New Zealand, but because of the various prohibitions, it had been almost impossible to sell
sexual services and remain within the law.
Before adoption, the Prostitution Reform Bill had been referred to the New Zealand Parliament’s Justice
and Electoral Committee, which held hearings in three major cities, heard evidence from relevant
government ministries and police, and considered experiences from other jurisdictions, including Australia,
that had decriminalized and legalized prostitution. The committee tabled a report in June 2003 recommending
that the bill be passed with amendments.
The committee’s report made it clear that the bill was “not intended to equate with the promotion of prostitution
as an acceptable career option but instead to enable sex workers to have, and access, the same protections
afforded to other workers.”
As stated in section 3 of the PRA:
The purpose of this Act is to decriminalise prostitution (while not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use) and to create a framework that –
- safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation;
- promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers;
- is conducive to public health;
- prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age; and
- implements certain other related reforms.
The PRA was ultimately designed to stop the sex industry from going underground. The objective, in letting sex workers and prostitution establishments come out into the open, was to create safer and healthier environments for persons selling sexual services. As noted by Jan Jordan, who was commissioned by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice to review the literature on the sex industry,
[t]he campaign for law reform was supported by a highly diverse range of people, motivated
by a desire to see a more equitable and practical solution. Many of those supporting the
reform were clear that they were not condoning prostitution itself, but recognizing its
current existence within society and the limitations and inadequacies of existing legislation.
A harm minimisation approach was favoured by many, and the resultant legal changes sought
to reflect such sentiments.
In practice, the PRA tolerates street prostitution and allows independent sex workers to work in an unregulated
environment. No “red light” districts were created. Indoors, the new law allows up to four independent
individuals to operate from the same location without a licence, while more than four individuals, or those
working for a third party, are regulated and must have a licence to operate. There are no restrictions on the
number of people that can work for one operator. Operator certificates are granted and held by the Registrar
of the Court, which ensures that the identity of operators remains confidential.
The PRA placed significant responsibility for regulating brothels, including zoning, licensing and advertising,
in the hands of local governments.
Local governments may regulate advertising through bylaws, based on considerations as to signage advertising prostitution
is likely to cause nuisance or serious offence to the public using the area, or whether it is
incompatible with the character of the area.
Local governments also retain the power to pass bylaws to control offensive behaviour, provided that such bylaws
do not prohibit prostitution altogether.
Other generic laws regulating businesses are now applicable to the sex industry, with special provisions
determining issues such as age limits and constraints on who can sell sexual services or own, finance, operate
or manage a prostitution business. Small owner-operator brothels are managed under local government rules for
small home businesses. Occupational health and safety codes have been expanded to include prostitution, and
inspectors have the authority to enter a premises believed to be a prostitution business at any reasonable time
to ensure compliance with the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and to ensure that the operation, prostitutes
and clients have adopted safe sex practices. Such safe sex practices entail individuals involved taking all
reasonable steps to ensure that condoms are used, and employers making free condoms accessible. Operators must
also provide health information to persons selling sexual services and their clients.
To combat exploitation, the PRA addresses the issue of trafficking in persons by denying immigration permits
to anyone who intends to work in, invest in, or operate a business of prostitution in New Zealand or who does so while living in New Zealand on a temporary permit or limited purpose permit.
Penalties against exploitative practices, including harsh penalties for clients and operators surrounding the
commercial exploitation of children, have also been strengthened.
Since 2003, there have been many attempts to reverse these legislative changes. One anti-prostitution group
sponsored a petition to repeal all of the Prostitution Reform Act, but fell short of the signatures needed
to force a referendum on this issue in 2005.
Concern about the PRA comes primarily from groups who feel that decriminalization has led to a rise in prostitution
in the country.
In an attempt to combat some of the effects of the PRA, some local governments in New Zealand have used their powers to strictly regulate the sex industry. Public pressure against allowing persons to sell sexual services out of their homes has resulted in the adoption of some regulations that make it difficult to set up small brothels in certain jurisdictions. In Auckland, a proposed bylaw to control prostitution does not distinguish between different sizes of brothels, thus subjecting prostitutes working from their homes to the more stringent limitations that are placed on large-scale brothels. In regulating the location of prostitution activities, local councils have also come under pressure from constituents who want to avoid the nuisance aspects of prostitution in their neighbourhoods. As a result, cities such as Aukland have chosen to restrict brothels to certain inner-city and industrial areas. Several cities have implemented regulations banning the location of prostitution establishments within the vicinity of schools, daycares, government buildings, and places of worship, as well as in residential areas. In some cities, these limitations have made it almost impossible to find a location where it would be legal to practice prostitution. This use of local regulatory power to essentially prohibit, or severely limit, prostitution has frustrated advocates of decriminalization, who see that the impact of the PRA has been seriously mitigated by such local controls.
As a way to effectively assess the impact of the legislation, sections 42 and 43 of the PRA required the
Minister of Justice to appoint an 11-member Prostitution Law Review Committee made up of individuals nominated
by the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective and the ministers of Justice, Women’s and Youth Affairs, Health,
Police, Commerce, and Local Government to review the PRA as soon as practicable after the Act came into force.
That evaluation was released in May 2008
and generally concluded that the effect of decriminalization had been positive thus far. The committee examined
statistics, and concluded that, contrary to public opinion, there had been no dramatic change in the numbers of
people involved in the sex industry since the PRA had come into force. The committee stated that street
prostitution accounts for only 11% of prostitution in New Zealand, and that the only real complaints about
street prostitution since 2003 emanated from Christchurch and Manukau, cities that are also dealing with a
range of other social problems. The committee felt that, in these cases, the effects of street prostitution are
best dealt with by proactive measures at the local level, through the local government, police and nongovernmental
Concerning exploitation, the committee found that 60% of sex workers felt that they had more power to refuse clients under the PRA than without it, and only 4% said they had been pressured into the sex industry by another person. The committee found that 1.3% of persons in the sex industry were under 18 years of age. This did not represent an increase in numbers, and the committee commented that the PRA had, in fact, managed to raise consciousness about sexual exploitation of children. The committee did not, however, find any significant improvement in employment conditions.
Regarding local government regulation of the sex industry, the committee noted that most local governments had
not seen the need for significant regulation in their jurisdiction, and that many of those that had implemented
regulations were simply being cautious, not responding to real issues. Cities that did implement severe
regulations, such as Christchurch and Manukau, were most often responding to a wide range of social problems
that were not necessarily related to prostitution. However, the committee expressed concern that some local
governments had attempted to make single-owner-operated brothels move into the same commercial areas as larger
brothels. The committee noted that such an arrangement is both impractical and even dangerous for sex workers
and stated that single-owner-operated brothels should be regulated in the same way as other businesses run from
the home. The committee pointed out that courts had struck down some bylaws, such as Auckland City Council’s
Brothels and Commercial Sex Premises Bylaw, which severely restricted locations where brothels could operate.
Finally, the committee expressed concern that some onerous regulations that had been implemented at the local
level under the Health Act and Local Government Act, such as high licensing fees and restrictive health
and safety requirements, could force brothels underground. This would be contrary to the purpose of the PRA.
Ultimately, the committee’s report concluded that despite some local frustrations with respect to street
prostitution and the operation of single-owner-operated brothels in residential neighbourhoods,
decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand was working. Kinks were being smoothed out, and generally,
prostitution and trafficking were not on the rise, sex workers were positive about low levels of exploitation,
and awareness was growing about the sexual exploitation of children.
The Netherlands (Legalization)
The Netherlands is well known for its “liberal” stance on prostitution. However, it is less well known that brothels were illegal in The Netherlands for most of the 20th century. In 1911, the Dutch government criminalized brothel keeping – even though prostitution per se remained legal.
Although theoretically brothels were banned in The Netherlands, in practice they continued to flourish. The
Dutch approach to prostitution at that time has been described as one of “pragmatic tolerance” or gedogen.
Rather than turning a blind eye to the prostitution industry, gedogen limited prosecution under specific
circumstances. Written government policies and local by-laws regulated the operation of brothels and kept
them within certain areas. However, it is important to note that:
Gedogen … is a subtle means of social control. Although it is often translated as “pragmatic
tolerance,” it does not mean that criminal offences are simply ignored. Neither should the word “tolerance”
be taken to imply downright approval. The emphasis lies on pragmatism which, to a large extent has its roots
in a certain scepticism with regard to criminal law as a effective solution to criminal problems.
Organized prostitution in private premises was thus permitted so long as it did not become a public nuisance.
Brothels and other prostitution establishments were required to follow municipal by-laws, and exploitation and
coercion of prostitutes continued to be prosecuted.
While the principles of gedogen underlay the management of prostitution for most of the 20th century, the Dutch
government came under considerable pressure to reform the Penal Code during the 1980s and 1990s. Sex worker
advocacy groups had been pushing for better working conditions and labour rights, and other concerns also
entered the fray.
According to the Ministry of Justice, between 15,000 and 30,000 prostitutes were working in The Netherlands in
the late 1990s.
By that time, many Dutch sex workers had left the red-light districts for establishments that afforded them
better pay and higher status. Immigrants (in particular, illegal immigrants) took their place in the windows
and cheaper brothels.
It was estimated that illegal immigrants and trafficked men and women made up approximately 40% of the
country’s prostitution industry during the late 1990s.
Government officials and communities were also keen to dismantle the “peripheral crime” that surrounds
prostitution – drug abuse and dealing, street solicitation, and the spread of STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
Consequently, in 2000, The Netherlands repealed its long-standing criminal law banning brothels and adopted
a licensing scheme to regulate the prostitution industry. For the Ministry of Justice, law reform was
necessary because “prostitution exists [as] a given fact, even for the government. That requires a realistic
approach, without moralism.”
Article 250a of the Dutch Penal Code was designed to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary
prostitution. Those who chose sex work as an occupation were to be given the same rights as other workers,
while those individuals who coerced or exploited prostitutes were to be severely punished (up to eight years’
imprisonment). According to the Ministry of Justice, it was hoped that the new legislation would fulfill six
- to protect prostitutes from commercial exploitation;
- to fight involuntary prostitution and trafficking;
- to combat the sexual abuse of juveniles;
- to advance the position of individuals working as prostitutes;
- to eliminate criminal involvement in the prostitution industry; and
- to limit the number of non-European Union (EU) residents working as prostitutes
in The Netherlands.
While the Penal Code punishes brothel owners and operators who coerce or induce someone into prostitution,
municipalities are primarily responsible for regulating sex work within their boundaries. For the vast majority
of these communities (approximately 95%), prostitution is regulated through the issuing of licences.
In order to promote consistency across the country, the Ministry of Justice developed a handbook on prostitution,
meant to help municipalities to develop their own policies for dealing with the sex industry. Some of the most
common local regulations include: restricting the number and location of brothels; imposing criminal background
checks on prospective owners and managers; introducing stringent health, hygiene, and safety requirements;
and limiting whom brothel owners can employ. In particular, brothel owners and operators are to be held responsible
for minors or illegal immigrants working in their establishments. The penalties range from a warning, to a fine, to
a temporary or permanent revocation of the licence. In cases involving involuntary prostitution, the owner and/or
operator can be charged under the Penal Code.
Contrary to other states where prostitution has been legalized, The Netherlands does not impose STD or HIV/AIDS
testing on persons selling sexual services. According to the Mr. A. de Graaf Foundation, a research and advocacy
group that stopped its operations in January 2005, many feel that the government is responsible for making medical
checkups and treatment available, but it is the responsibility of the individual to use them. Clinics and medical
outreach services are available in the red-light districts and “lounges” where street solicitation is permitted.
The legalization of prostitution in The Netherlands has had its share of successes and setbacks. In particular,
critics note that while legalization benefits prostitutes who are residents of the European Union – who are now
able to obtain legal, health, and social services – illegal immigrants and other “undesirables” have been pushed
and are thus even more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
As a result of legalization, most Dutch and EU sex workers benefit from the rights accorded to other workers.
Dutch brothels must now comply with a host of occupational health and safety regulations. There is even some
indication that prostitutes’ incomes have increased. Persons involved in prostitution no longer need to compete
for a share of the illegal economy, nor need they pay pimps for “support” and “protection.”
Dutch sex workers sit on advisory boards and committees, helping to develop local policy.
Some individuals who sell sexual services have also stated that they are now more likely to approach the
authorities if they are harassed, assaulted or robbed. However, it is important to note that the prostitutes’
degree of trust in dealing with police officers has been cultivated over a number of years. According to one
former sex worker, even before legalization, “most of the prostitutes had quite a positive feeling about [the
police] because they knew they were there to help them.”
Nevertheless, legal sex workers experience their share of problems. As in Victoria, The Netherlands is witnessing
a concentration of prostitution in large brothels. While the regulations help to ensure the health and safety
of those selling sexual services, they also in effect deny them the opportunity to run their own businesses.
The high costs associated with renovations and rent in red-light districts will likely, in the long run, lead to
a “greater concentration of power and money” in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
Moreover, while prostitution has been legalized, this development has done little to combat the stigma associated
with the trade. Sex workers in The Netherlands continue to experience considerable difficulty in obtaining the
services of accountants, banks, and health insurance companies.
Many prostitutes now also find it difficult to keep their occupation a secret. Given their marginalized status,
persons who sell sexual services are wary of measures such as identification cards that threaten their privacy.
Some sex workers have even left the business because they did not want to register with the police and tax authorities.
The reluctance of many sex workers to register with the authorities, combined with the attractiveness of The
Netherlands as a destination for traffickers and illegal immigrants, has led to an explosion of the underground
industry. As a result, experts estimate that only 4% of persons selling sexual services in The Netherlands are
registered – the rest work underground. The vast majority of sex workers (80–85%) are thought to be non-Dutch,
and up to 75% are living in the country illegally.
For many years, illegal immigrants and prostitutes with substance abuse problems were able to work with relative
impunity. With the introduction of Article 250a of the Penal Code, however, the police have focused their efforts
on “clean[ing] up” the industry.
In order to evade detection by the police and immigration officials, illegal prostitutes have “disappear[ed]” by
working either in illegal brothels or on the street. While some window renters fear that their businesses will
have to shut down due to their dependence on illegal prostitutes,
advocates worry that the illegal prostitutes will not obtain the health and social services they need.
There is also concern that these prostitutes are at high risk of violence and exploitation by customers and pimps.
Finally, fear of deportation may discourage prostitutes from pressing charges or coming forward about trafficking
The Netherlands continues to deal with some of the same problems that face its neighbours. While legal sex workers have begun to obtain rights and services afforded to other labourers, illegal prostitutes’ invisibility makes them more vulnerable than ever.
Along with The Netherlands, Sweden has received much international attention since its new law on prostitution
came into effect in 1999. However, its neo-abolitionist approach is quite distinct from that of The Netherlands
or any other country. While prostitutes cannot be charged with soliciting or offering sex for payment, clients
and procurers can be charged. In other words, Sweden has criminalized the activities of customers and other
exploiters rather than those of individuals selling sexual services.
The Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services (1998) is part of larger government legislation on
violence against women.
The decision to include this particular act in the larger law was a conscious one. It reflects the government’s
definition of (and position on) prostitution. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Act demonstrates the
government’s commitment to eradicating gender inequality in all its forms, including prostitution. Sweden now
defines “prostitution [as] a form – a serious form – of male violence against women.”
The Swedish government believes that criminalizing the buyer and pimp serves two key purposes. First, it targets
those individuals whom the government deems responsible for prostitution. Second, it should help to make it
clear that prostitution is a commodification of human beings. The Act seeks to send this message to clients:
A woman’s body is not the same as a glass of brandy or an ice cream after a good dinner. And there is a
difference between shoelaces and girls’ bodies. Brandy, ice cream and shoelaces are inanimate objects.
Women and girls are something else – they are human beings and therefore not for sale!
It is thus believed that if demand is reduced, the sexual oppression of prostituted persons will end.
The Swedish government considers persons selling sexual services to be victims, exploited by both their procurers
and purchasers. Prostitutes are not criminals; rather, they are trapped by particular social and economic
circumstances. As a result, Sweden endeavours to provide sex workers with the support they need to leave the
trade. This includes, but is not limited to, access to education, alternative employment and outreach programs.
Criminal sanctions are not seen as constructive because they are barriers that
prevent prostitutes from pursuing other work opportunities.
While the Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services has received much publicity, and was accompanied
by an extensive education campaign, the available evidence on the state of prostitution in Sweden since the law’s
inception is mixed.
In comparison to other European countries, the prostitution industry in Sweden has never been large. In 1996,
approximately 2,500 prostitutes were working in Sweden, with about 650 on the streets. However, since the Act
came into effect in 1999, Sweden has witnessed a dramatic decrease in street prostitution. In 2006, there
were approximately 1,500 prostitutes working in Sweden, with up to 400 on the streets. However, it is important
to note that statistics in this area are highly uncertain – a fact that has been confirmed by a number of
Swedish government departments.
While similar data are not available on the number of customers, Camilla Örndahl of the National Criminal
Investigation Department has said that “[t]he law has definitely had a disruptive effect on the customers.”
The Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services enjoys significant support from Swedish citizens.
Public opinion polls have found that 80% of the populace endorsed the legislation.
Critics have questioned, however, whether the legislation is really achieving its stated goals.
The Swedish police have experienced considerable difficulty in laying charges under the Act. According to one
police official, “The law is toothless. It is almost impossible to charge anyone for buying sex.”
A government report suggests that two key factors have impeded policing efforts thus far. First, there remains
much uncertainty as to what specific activities fall under the Act. Second, the courts have been reluctant to
convict purchasers when the client (and/or the person selling sexual services) denies that the act actually
took place. It may be some time before the courts clarify the scope of the Act.
Until that time, conviction rates may remain low. In the first years of the law’s application, only 234 males
were convicted of purchasing the services of a prostitute.
Moreover, some critics point out that prostitution has not really “disappeared.” While the number of people
involved in street prostitution has declined since 1999, many of them are now believed to be involved in more
hidden types of prostitution. Popular solicitation methods now include the use of cell phones and the Internet.
Prostitution also appears to be taking place in hotels, restaurants and apartments rather than on the street.
Critics therefore argue that the legislation has not reduced the number of sex workers in Sweden. It has instead
“led to a reorganization of the sex industry.”
This reorganization may have put sex workers into even more dangerous positions than before, given the hidden
nature of the industry.
For social services and health outreach workers, the recent changes to the prostitution industry are also troublesome.
While such workers continue to receive funding from the Swedish government, they have not been particularly
successful in maintaining contact with the prostitutes themselves.
Some prostitutes have complained that these services continue to focus on street workers.
It may be some time, therefore, before access to support services returns to the levels attained before the
introduction of the Act.
England relies, by and large, on prostitution legislation first enacted during the 1950s. As in Canada,
prostitution per se is not illegal in England. However, most activities surrounding the trade are illegal.
Provisions in the Sexual Offences Act (1956) and Street Offences Act (1959) make it an offence for sex
workers to either solicit or loiter.
Moreover, clients (or “punters”) can be charged with kerb crawling, which consists of soliciting a prostitute
from a motor vehicle or in a public place. It is also illegal to procure, pimp, operate a brothel, and live
off the avails of a person selling sexual services.
That said, it is important to note that, in England, an individual selling sexual services working alone out of
his or her own home is not performing an illegal act. Such an arrangement is not considered a brothel, which
is illegal under the legislation.
A brothel is defined as existing where more than one individual is working to offer sexual services.
Thus, provided that a person is selling sexual services alone in his or her home and is over 18, this activity is
However, there are a number of caveats to this blanket statement. First, if more than one person provides sexual services within that property, whether or not they are working at the same time, the activity becomes illegal – such an arrangement would be classified as a brothel. Thus, roommates who provide sexual services from their home on alternate days will be held criminally liable. As well, if rooms in a particular building are let out to more than one person offering sexual services, this will be considered a brothel if it can be proven that the individuals are effectively working together. A hotel in which more than one prostitute is working on a given night could be considered a brothel if it can be proven that the prostitutes are working together.
This legislation has been criticized from all sides of the prostitution debate. Many argue that the Acts are now
antiquated and do not reflect the realities of today’s prostitution industry. Moreover, the unclear wording and
poor coherence of the legislation are believed to have created much confusion in its interpretation.
In late 2002, the Home Office recognized that the sexual offence laws needed to be revised. Home Secretary David
Blunkett, when introducing the government’s proposal for new legislation in the area, said that:
The law on sex offences is widely recognised as archaic, incoherent and discriminatory. Much of it belongs
to an age before the light bulb or motor car yet we now live in a world of global communications, with
children two clicks away from Internet porn sites generated by a multi-million pound sex industry.
The resulting Sexual Offences Act
(2003), which came into force in May 2004, does not radically change
the government’s position on prostitution. Rather, it focuses on creating a new offence – the commercial sexual
exploitation of adults – and making current legislation more gender-neutral.
Under the amended Act, the offence of keeping a brothel used for prostitution was consequently bolstered. The new offence relates to the control and management of a brothel, rather than to the sex work itself, and carries a penalty of up to 7 years’ imprisonment. As well, owners and managers of brothels are criminally liable under the “exploitation of prostitution” provisions of the 2003 Act, which provide for penalties of up to 7 years’ imprisonment.
It is important to note that although the owning and management of a brothel are illegal, and thus all brothels are illegal, it is not illegal to work as a prostitute in a brothel provided that the sex worker plays no role in the management of the operation. Sex workers themselves are not targeted under the brothel provisions.
Like many countries, England has grappled with how to protect persons selling sexual services from abuse and exploitation while ensuring that communities are not victimized in the process. There is much controversy over whether enforcement strategies benefit sex workers or communities.
For many critics, the key problem is the apparent absence of any sort of national prostitution law enforcement
policy. It seems that, by and large, local enforcement practices are dictated by residents’ complaints (or
In some communities, residents associations and municipal governments have called upon their police forces to
“crack down” on prostitution. Concerned for residents’ safety, and alarmed by the proliferation of drugs and
crime in their area, these groups have been successful in pressing for more vigilant enforcement of the sexual
offence laws. City councils, along with the police, have pursued various strategies in order to reduce the number
of persons involved in prostitution within their boundaries. Some cities have adopted “automatic prosecut[ion]”
policies, and others have begun “naming and shaming” kerb crawlers.
Some municipalities have even begun to use civil measures to limit the trade, including issuing compulsory purchase
orders for properties being used by sex workers
and serving court orders on sex workers banning them from working in certain locations.
Other communities, however, have examined very different options to manage the prostitution industry. Some cities
have turned a blind eye to certain types of off-street prostitution, while others are considering instituting
tolerance zones in order to confine prostitution to certain areas.
The lack of coherence and consistency in England’s enforcement of its prostitution laws has meant that neither sex workers’ rights organizations nor residents associations are satisfied with the way that prostitution is controlled and/or regulated. Communities, for the most part, are troubled by the local noise, traffic, and crime that prostitution generates. Sex workers’ rights advocates, on the other hand, worry that people selling sexual services both on and off the streets are facing serious threats to their health and safety.
Prostitutes – particularly those who work on the street
– are at increased risk of violence, including verbal humiliation and physical and sexual assaults from their pimps
and clients. Sex workers’ rights groups argue that the current legislative approach in England augments these risks.
They emphasize the fear of arrest actually undermines street prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves. Because most
activities surrounding prostitution are illegal, prostitutes must isolate themselves (so as to not arouse suspicion)
and/or rely on a pimp for protection. They may also take less time to evaluate their customers, increasing the risk
of violence and exploitation – particularly since their assailants know there will be little, if any, legal recourse
Consequently, critics argue, street prostitutes are finding themselves increasingly vulnerable.
People selling sexual services on the street face other important risks. For instance, in Birmingham, health
outreach organizations are not permitted to operate on the streets. Banning health and other support workers
from the streets can limit sex workers’ access to important health and safety information (for example, “bad
In light of these risks, some researchers have noted a movement towards indoors prostitution (e.g., in brothels,
saunas and massage parlours).
The advantages of working off-street are significant. Prostitutes who work for escort agencies or massage
parlours have the added security of being able to request identification from their clients, and they may also
keep their employer and/or colleagues apprised of their movements.
Prostitutes who work in indoor locales also tend to make more money than those who work on the street.
Certain police initiatives, however, have begun to erode some of these benefits. Although the police had largely
ignored off-street prostitution until recently, growing concerns about juvenile prostitution and trafficking
have put pressure on the authorities to police red-light districts more vigorously. In 2001, for example,
Scotland Yard raided more than 50 London brothels in a move described as “the biggest simultaneous crackdown
on brothels and prostitution in [England] in recent times.”
This “crackdown” has strained relations between the police and the country’s prostitutes. Sex workers’ rights
organizations also argue that these raids have forced women out onto the street, where their safety and well-being
Other policing practices are believed to threaten indoor prostitutes’ health and safety. Some sex workers who
participate in the off-street trade choose not to report crimes to the police for fear of identifying themselves,
and others do not stockpile prophylactics because condoms continue to be used as evidence in prostitution cases.
Overall, there has been growing frustration that the government is not dealing effectively with the prostitution
industry. In response, the government issued a consultation paper in 2004
and followed up with a proposed new strategy in January 2006
aimed at reducing street prostitution, improving the quality of life of communities affected by prostitution,
and reducing all forms of commercial sexual exploitation. Since then, no significant changes have been made to
the law, despite various proposals to extend the definition of soliciting and to ensure that sex workers attend
rehabilitation programs, as well as the holding of consultations to allow two people to sell sexual services
together (“mini-brothels”), no significant changes have been made to the law. Some action occurred in November
2008, when the UK Home Office took steps aimed at trafficking, announcing plans to change its laws to punish
clients involved with individuals who have been forced into prostitution.
The United States relies on prohibitionist and abolitionist policies to control the prostitution trade.
At the federal level, the United States government has enacted prostitution laws in order to protect
servicemen and women from the prostitution industry, as well as to satisfy the country’s international treaty
It is an offence to engage in, or solicit for, prostitution within what is deemed to be a “reasonable distance”
from a military detachment or operation. It is also illegal to transport individuals across state or
international lines for the purposes of prostitution.
While the federal government does sanction prostitution under certain circumstances, most of the specific laws
governing prostitution fall under state jurisdiction. With the exception of Nevada and Rhode Island, every state
prohibits prostitution and/or its related activities. The legislation, however, varies from state to state.
For instance, only some states specifically criminalize prostitution.
The following sections of this paper examine prostitution laws in two states with very different approaches:
California and Nevada.
A. California (Prohibitionism)
In California, prostitution is illegal. According to the California Penal Code, it is an offence
to agree to engage in prostitution and to actually engage in prostitution.
Solicitation is prohibited, whether it occurs in a public or private space. A recent amendment to the
California Penal Code also criminalizes loitering for the purposes of prostitution. While these offences
are all misdemeanours, a person can be charged with a felony if he or she has previously tested positive for
HIV. Finally, the California Penal Code lays out extensive provisions criminalizing pandering (which
includes procuring through intimidation, physical force, or persuasion) and living off the avails of prostitution.
Certain jurisdictions in California, moreover, have supplemented these criminal sanctions with additional civil
measures to deter prostitution. For example, San Bernardino can issue restraining orders against persons selling
sexual services, barring them from participating in specific activities in certain areas.
San Francisco was among the first cities to set up a “john’s school,” designed to “shame, educate, and deter”
johns from seeking out the services of prostitutes.
Many cities have implemented (or are considering implementing) “drug-free,” “gang-free” and “prostitution-free”
zones; persons involved in prostitution can face additional charges for being found in those neighbourhoods.
However, in 2007, the California Supreme Court ruled that cities do not have the jurisdiction to seize the
vehicles of drivers allegedly soliciting sexual services. This ruling overturned the laws of more than two
dozen California cities, holding that only the state has jurisdiction to create penalties for prostitution offences.
Cities cannot issue seizure laws that are more severe than state or federal laws.
There are many reasons for the criminalization of prostitution in California and, more generally, in the United States as a whole. While limiting the spread of disease has traditionally been an overarching goal, other justifications for prohibition include:
… suppressing the organized crime surrounding prostitution, protecting the integrity of the family, protecting
non-participants from unwelcome solicitations, protecting prostitutes, and protecting minors who are coerced
into a life of prostitution.
Prohibition ultimately begins with an important assumption – namely, that criminal sanctions are essential to
reducing the number of men and women involved in prostitution.
Very little evidence is available, however, to suggest that prohibitionist laws (such as those enacted by the
California legislature) have met their objectives. As in the United Kingdom, there is little, if any,
consistency in the enforcement of prostitution-related laws. Enforcement of the Penal Code against
persons selling sexual services on the street as well as those operating in indoor locales appears to be largely
dictated by citizens’ complaints.
As the most visible members of the prostitution industry, street prostitutes are more likely to be arrested
than any other type of sex worker, or their clients.
The policing of persons selling sexual services on the street is not uniform, however; nor it is consistent.
Some studies indicate that the police tend to adopt a “laissez faire” attitude towards prostitution unless
public attention focuses on it. As a result, street prostitution tends to be concentrated in more isolated areas,
as well as in communities that do not have the voice (or the resources) to lobby the proper authorities.
“Prostitution-free zones” and the occasional police sweeps appear to do little but displace sex workers from one
area to the next.
Given the lack of housing and employment resources available to sex workers in the United States, most of them
simply end up back on the street.
Generally, prostitutes who work in escort agencies, massage parlours and illegal brothels are much less likely
to come into contact with the criminal justice system than their counterparts who work on the street.
However, enforcement policies, at least in some cities, appear to be changing. Some police forces have begun
to delegate a considerable amount of resources towards cracking down on indoor prostitution, “ostensibly to go
after the ‘big fish.’” These operations have been criticized not only for the costs involved, but also for the
risk of driving indoor prostitution out onto the street.
Prostitutes working under American prohibitionist laws face many of the same challenges as sex workers in
countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Street prostitutes may work in more dangerous areas in order
to escape the notice of the police. They are less likely to report victimization to the authorities, for fear
of being identified or charged.
Persons selling sexual services may also be less likely to seek out the services of visible social support
and health outreach groups, thus increasing their risk for engaging in practices such as sharing needles or not
Finally, many critics question the level of resources dedicated to policing the prostitution industry. One
estimate pegs the cost of prostitution law enforcement at approximately $180 million annually.
The processing costs for each individual arrest lie in the thousands of dollars.
There are also substantial costs associated with incarceration. Sex workers (most of whom are typically
incarcerated for 30 days) make up at least one-third of all female inmates in the United States.
Many of these women are visible minorities and immigrants.
While criminal sanctions and incarceration may form important elements of the U.S. authorities’
“anti-prostitution arsenal,” there is little evidence to suggest that they deter individuals from selling sexual
A criminal record may, in fact, subvert a sex worker’s attempt to leave the industry. Some may continue in the
trade in order to earn money to pay their fines. Moreover, for many prostitutes, being arrested is more of a
“business expense and an inconvenience, [rather than] a significant deterrent.”
The result is a vicious cycle whereby sex workers enter the criminal justice system, pay the requisite penalty
and then return to the trade.
Prostitution remains a contentious topic in the United States. While many Americans agree that eliminating
prostitution (or at least visible forms of it) is a long-term goal, there is little agreement over the best
way to achieve it. Legalization and decriminalization, proposed in many other countries, are rarely seen to
be palatable options.
For the most part, then, the United States appears to be committed to “rid[ding]” itself of prostitution by
introducing more severe sanctions and widening the net of criminal and civil prohibitions.
B. Nevada (Legalization)
Nevada is the only state in the United States to have formally legalized one type of prostitution venue.
It relies on a combination of state criminal laws, administrative laws, local ordinances and informal
traditions to govern the prostitution industry. As such, some argue that “the brothel system [in Nevada]
is really a consortia of formal and informal, modern and traditional brothel regulatory systems that together
construct this unique service industry and subculture.”
In Nevada, prostitution is permitted only in licensed brothels. All other forms of prostitution (for example,
street prostitution, escort agencies and massage parlours) are illegal. The state’s laws and local ordinances
aim to provide a framework through which to manage the medical risks associated with the trade while keeping
brothels relatively divorced from the day-to-day activities of their communities.
Section 244.345 of the Nevada Revised Statutes gives individual counties with a population of fewer than 400,000
residents the authority to license brothels.
Prostitution and solicitation outside of these legal venues are misdemeanours.
Prostitution is also illegal in Las Vegas and Reno.
Not every county in Nevada licenses brothels. Moreover, those counties that do allow brothels to operate
legally generally impose strict conditions on the brothels, their owners and their employees. However,
these regulations vary considerably from one county to the next.
License application requirements are fairly extensive. Prospective brothel owners must provide information
about their family, employment, military and criminal history, their financial records and their management
team. The county may also request any additional information it deems necessary to determine whether the
operation of a new brothel will be “contrary to the health, welfare, or safety of the City [County] or its
Most counties have also instituted zoning provisions that limit the location and the number of brothels within
their boundaries. While section 201.380 of the Nevada Revised Statutes prohibits the operation of brothels
within 400 yards of any school or place of worship, some individual counties have imposed additional
restrictions. In some counties, brothels can be operated only in specific buildings or on specific
properties. Consequently, most of the existing licensed brothels began operating before legalization came
into effect in the 1970s. Far from inciting massive growth, legalization has actually enabled counties to
contain the size of the industry. The overall number of legal brothels has remained virtually unchanged since
the 1970s (33 in 1973 and 36 in 2000), meaning that “[i]t is virtually impossible to build a new brothel.”
Many counties also regulate the day-to-day business of their licensed brothels. While specific ordinances
vary from county to county, most brothels face restrictions on their size, the number of prostitutes they
employ, and their working hours.
Sections 201.430 and 440 of the Nevada Revised Statutes also restrict brothels’ right to advertise. According
to state law, brothels cannot advertise on public streets and highways or in theatres. Most counties, moreover,
place additional limits on advertising.
Traditionally, it was illegal to advertise in counties where prostitution was prohibited. This law was overturned
in a Federal Court ruling on First Amendment grounds in July 2007.
Individual sex workers are also subjected to regulation and controls. All prostitutes working in Nevada’s
brothels must register with the police. Work permits are issued to every person selling sexual services,
conditional on passing a mandatory HIV/STD screening. State law requires that each prostitute submit to HIV
testing each month and STD testing each week. If a prostitute is infected with an STD, she must submit to
treatment. It is a felony for an individual who is HIV-positive to engage in prostitution. While many sex
workers support compulsory HIV/AIDS testing,
some critics have questioned its potential impact on sex workers’ civil liberties.
Counties have traditionally restricted prostitutes’ mobility, including placing limits on when they may go into
town and where they can go. Recent research suggests, however, that most counties no longer police the
activities of persons selling sexual services. Sex workers nevertheless continue to be governed by rules
devised by their brothels’ owners and managers.
While the specific regulations vary from one brothel to another, some examples include: requiring prostitutes
to work three weeks, followed by one week off; to live on the compound or “ranch”; and to pay the owners between
40 and 50% of their earnings, on top of room and board.
Sex workers’ status as independent contractors means that they do not have access to health insurance, sick
leave, or unemployment and retirement benefits. Furthermore, because they are not covered by the state’s
labour laws, they may be subjected to poor working conditions and/or threats to their health and safety.
Persons selling sexual services working in the illegal sector face even greater risks. While prostitution has
long been an offence in the state’s largest cities (Las Vegas and Reno), an underground industry continues to
thrive. In Las Vegas, street solicitation, once concentrated in the Strip, has begun to expand into other busy
areas. Escort agencies advertise their services on billboards and in the Yellow Pages. Prostitutes
also work the floor of casinos and other tourist destinations.
Some argue that while little is known about illegal prostitution in Las Vegas and other parts of Nevada, it is
clear that this sector has “grown tremendously in recent years, and ha[s] undoubtedly contributed to Las Vegas’s
These sex workers likely face conditions similar to those of their counterparts working in other parts of the
While the state legislature has not officially reopened the prostitution debate, there has been recent discussion
of extending legalization to Nevada’s larger counties. Spearheaded by the current mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar
Goodman, this discussion has focused on whether legal brothels could revitalize a decaying downtown core. It
has been proposed that legal brothels would also “provide safer, regulated and revenue-generating sex” in
comparison to the current illegal sector.
However, this debate is still in its infancy, making any major change to state law unlikely in the near future.
There is little consensus as to how the state should monitor and/or control prostitution. Most countries appear to be grappling with one underlying question: what role should legislation (in particular, criminal law) play in regulating prostitution? Legislative directions have ranged from strengthening the criminal provisions relating to prostitution to repealing those same types of laws. There is little evidence that any particular approach has met all of its objectives.
None of the countries and states examined in this paper have repealed all of their prostitution-related criminal laws. However, a number of governments have chosen to supplement criminal legislation with local by-laws, city ordinances, and other measures – thereby suggesting that, for many of these countries, prostitution is not simply a legislative concern. It is also a social and economic issue that calls for the use of public policy and other social intervention measures in order to address the needs of both individual sex workers and their communities.