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Oldest profession wins new Dutch legal recognition

July 2, 1997

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ The Dutch government plans to scrap its widely-flouted ban on brothels in hopes of improving prostitutes’ lives and reining in the industry.

Legalizing the estimated 2,000 Dutch bordellos would give local municipalities better control over the sex industry, justice officials said Tuesday.

``The existence of prostitution is a fact, which must also be accepted by the government,″ said a Justice Ministry statement issued Tuesday.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands for those over 18 years old. Brothels are officially illegal, but have long been allowed to operate as long as they follow strict hygienic standards and fire safety regulations.

Amsterdam’s landmark red-light district, where scantily clad women advertise their wares in red-lit windows, is even one of the city’s biggest tourist magnets.

Prostitutes welcomed the proposal by Justice Minister Winnie Sorgdrager, which parliament is expected to approve later this year.

``It’s a positive step,″ said Martina Hof, spokeswoman for the Red Thread, which represents the nation’s 30,000 prostitutes. ``It’s the first time that government has been open about the topic.″

The bill would turn into law informal regulations now in place, ``making it easier for municipalities to formulate their prostitution policies,″ said Justice Ministry spokesman Wijnand Stevens.

The ministry said legalization would allow authorities to tackle crimes such as drugs and weapons trafficking, which are drawn to the seedy atmosphere of red-light districts.

The bill also would let local authorities introduce official operation licenses that would slap strict regulations on brothels, governing their location, size and safe-sex practices.

Under the bill, the maximum penalty for abusing prostitutes or hiring minors would jump from one year to six years. And in an attempt to combat trafficking in women, illegal aliens would be banned from working in brothels.

About 40 percent of the country’s prostitutes work in brothels, while 30 percent work behind shop windows in red-light districts. The rest are in street prostitution or other forms of prostitution, the Justice Ministry said.

Amsterdam has also launched a licensing system controlling where bordello owners may set up shop as well as establishing working and building conditions.

Bordello owners say their bottom line will remain the same since stricter measures would eliminate bad brothels, while those that have been following informal regulations won’t feel the squeeze.

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