Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images
- Prostitution is legal and regulated in Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Austria, and many other countries in Europe.
- Many major European cities have red-light districts and regulated brothels that pay taxes and follow certain rules.
- Regulating the prostitution industry was supposed to help limit sex trafficking and connect sex workers with critical health and government services, but reports say there hasn’t been much success on either front.
Prostitution is big business in Europe.
By some estimates, the number of prostitutes across the European Union’s 28 members states ranges between 700,000 and as many as 1.2 million. In Germany alone, the industry is estimated to be worth $16.3 billion, according to Germany’s Federal Statistics Office.
While prostitution has a long history in Europe, it’s legality varies from country to country. In countries like Germany and Greece, the sex trade is fully legalized and regulated, whereas is many northern European countries like Sweden, it is illegal to buy sex, but not illegal to sell it.
Brothels and red-light districts have been a part of major European cities like Amsterdam and Hamburg for decades and, in some cases, centuries. But the current era of prostitution began around 2000 when the Netherlands became one of the first major European countries to formalize prostitution’s legality and regulate it like any other industry. Germany, Greece, and others followed suit, though Switzerland has had fully legal prostitution since 1942.
Legalizing and regulating prostitution was supposed to make the trade safer for sex workers, helping them access critical health and government services, but by most accounts, it mostly resulted in turning prostitution a major industry with hotel-sized brothels, brothel chains, and a cash cow of tax revenue.
Here’s what the sex industry in Europe is actually like.
While laws vary, Europe has a more permissive attitude towards prostitution than in the US. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Turkey, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Latvia, prostitution is legal and regulated. In other countries, it is legal but not regulated.
For most Americans, prostitution in Europe likely calls to mind Amsterdam’s red-light district. In 2000, the Netherlands was one of the first countries to legalize and regulate prostitution …
Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images
… leading to scenes like this in Amsterdam’s famous De Wallen district, a neighborhood famous for marijuana coffee shops and sex-worker windows, where prostitutes try to solicit customers for a 30-minute soiree.
Horacio Villalobos – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
- Disappointing photos show what all-inclusive resorts look like in real life
- A woman who studied 600 millionaires discovered that most of the superrich have surprisingly affordable homes. Here’s what some of those look like.
- Meet Carlos Slim, the richest person in Mexico, who’s worth at least $55 billion and owns an $80 million mansion in New York City