Legalisation of Dutch brothels brings strictly safer sex

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The Independent Online

In a neat twist to the definition of "safe sex", Dutch health and safety inspectors are invading brothels to check their array of bizarre sex toys and sanitation and to verify if beds are firmly screwed to the floor, as the Netherlands prepares to officially recognise brothels for the first time tomorrow.

In a neat twist to the definition of "safe sex", Dutch health and safety inspectors are invading brothels to check their array of bizarre sex toys and sanitation and to verify if beds are firmly screwed to the floor, as the Netherlands prepares to officially recognise brothels for the first time tomorrow.

"It made a change from looking at school cisterns and measuring nursing home exits," said a municipality safety inspector, describing his visit to a brothel's sado-masochism chamber which got the thumbs down for being "too poky" and "a possible fire hazard".

It may come as a surprise to all who have gasped at the antics in Amsterdam's red light district to learn that the sex for was illegal until now.

After more than a decade of heated debate, brothel keeping will be a legitimate business in the Netherlands. But the government insists legalisation will be accompanied by stringent regulation. The Dutch Justice Minister, Benk Korthals, said: "Prostitution is a fact of life everywhere and demands a realistic approach. Tough action should be taken to counter harmful forms of sexual exploitation, while commercial exploitation of voluntary prostitution is to be permitted and normalised."

While prostitution has not been a criminal offence since 1911, the person who "provides the facilities", the brothel keeper, was committing a crime.

Now the introduction of a local licensing system will give municipalities influence over the brothels' location, and more power to weed out convicted criminals who are involved in the sex industry.

The idea of equating prostitution with normal business has outraged some. Menno de Bruijn, a spokesman for the Calvinist SGP party, said: "We recently threw open the door for homosexuals to marry ... and our shameful toleration of soft drugs and euthanasia has made us an island within Europe. Giving an immoral trade similar status and rights as a furniture store or bike shop is the last straw."

And brothel keepers are not all jubilant about "normalisation", which will require them to apply for licensing from their local councils and observe the dozens of new regulations.

In The Hague, for example, window prostitutes (women who attract custom by sitting on display behind glass, illuminated by pink neon strip lighting) complain they are being turned into Cinderellas, required on the orders of the mayor to shut up shop on the stroke of 1am on weekdays and 1.30am at weekends.

A lobby group called the Relax Industry Federation is planning to fight back, possibly through the courts. Arie de Jong, a federation member and a well known sex boss in The Hague, said: "The real reason for removing the ban on brothels is to shut many of our businesses down. We are being driven mad by red tape, we're getting all sorts of rules about room sizes, safety, working conditions. It's nothing less than a clearance operation in fact".

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