Dutch lawmakers are debating whether to criminalise paying for sex after 42,000 people signed an online petition.

Organised by feminist and Christian youth groups, the campaign took six years to gather the 40,000 signatures which trigger parliamentary debate.

Supporters claim punishing those who buy sex will cut demand by 80 percent, reduce human trafficking, and shrink sex worker’s ranks.

They favour the Nordic model—adopted by Sweden, Norway, and France—arguing most are forced into sex work, and “free choice” is an illusion.

Yet both individual sex workers and their unions argue the Nordic model only endangers them—depriving them of legal recourse if they are assaulted or raped in the course of their work. They add clients’ insistence on meeting in secluded spots actually enables violence.

A recent study examining data from 33 countries found criminalising sex work “increased risk of sexual/physical violence from clients,” unprotected sex, HIV, and police violence—isolating sex workers from support networks and exacerbating existing inequalities.

The Dutch justice ministry already plans to reinforce anti-human trafficking laws and fund programmes which help people trying to leave prostitution, the BBC reports.

The Netherlands is among the world’s most socially progressive nations; such a move from youngsters—traditionally a more liberal demographic—is unusual.

How should sex work laws be decided?

Should sex workers have priority in determining the conditions of their labour—or is wider society equally entitled to pronounce itself?

   

Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.