NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 31, 2005

Belgium has followed the lead of other European nations by testing legalized prostitution as a way to reduce crime, violence and human trafficking, says the Wall Street Journal.

In 2001, the Belgian government instituted a "tolerance zone" in a three-block area of Antwerp, where prostitutes, who must be at least 18 years old and a citizen of the European Union, are protected and regulated by the city. Getting the world's oldest profession out into the open would reduce societal ills that accompany illegal prostitution, say officials.

The experiment has produced mixed results:

  • Since 2001, prostitution-related crime, including rape, assault, murder and human trafficking have dropped by 44 percent.
  • Antwerp has also reaped $800,000 in tax revenue; brothel owners must pay the city $3,100 annually for every display window they own.
  • However, problems still exist outside the tolerance zone; illegal prostitutes outnumber legal ones, and about 25 percent of them are victims of human trafficking.

In January, Villa Tinto, a high-tech brothel, opened in the tolerance zone. The brothel requires its workers to scan their fingerprints in order to initially access their rooms. They must then scan their fingerprints each hour to prevent any legal worker from handing their room over to illegal workers.

Other European countries that have regulated or legalized prostitution still deal with illegal workers as well:

  • In Germany, there are three times as many illegal prostitutes as there are legal ones.
  • In the Netherlands, only five to 10 percent of the country's 20,000 prostitutes pay taxes.

But not everyone approves of Belgium's "tolerance" of prostitution. Belgian Sen. Nathalie de T'Serclaes notes, "Places like Villa Tinto are little more than assembly lines for sex where women are treated like meat for sale." She prefers the Swedish system instead, which criminalizes clients.

Source: Dan Bilefsky, "Belgian Experiment: Make Prostitution Legal to Fight its Ills," Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2005.

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