top of page

The sex industry is legal around the world

Article: Luba Fine

The Israeli media and social networks call the regulatory series of the sex industry by the word "institutionalization". This term has no equivalent in the English language, so we will refer to the sex industry in the country as "regulated", when places of prostitution (brothels, brothels, massage parlors that also offer prostitution services) are given the legal status of a business or a limited company. The types of regulation that meet the definition This may be different, and in the framework of the article we will focus on some of them.


The regulatory series of the sex industry exists in approximately 22 countries in the world (this list may change depending on changes in local legislation):

  • In Africa: Eritrea, Tunisia (under strict restrictions), Senegal.

  • In Europe: Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Turkey.

  • In Oceania: New Zealand, several countries in Australia, parts of Micronesia and West Guinea, Dutch and Australian territories.

  • In North America: parts of the state of Nevada in the USA and some states in Mexico.

  • In Central and South America: El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and the Dutch territories in the Caribbean.

  • In Asia: Bangladesh, Lebanon (under strict restrictions).


There are differences between the laws of the countries, which give places of prostitution the status of a business. The countries differ in the scope of regulation and the type of regulation. Some countries, such as New Zealand, prohibit non-citizens or residents of the country from engaging in prostitution [i] , while other countries, such as Germany, allow it for citizens of European Union countries [ii] . There are countries that require prostitutes to have a license, and countries that do not. Despite the great differences that exist between the states of the institution, they all have a common camp: the "third party", the one who earns a living by engaging others in prostitution, is defined in them as having a legitimate occupation. Accordingly, the women engaged in prostitution are expected to pay taxes [iii] and meet various regulatory requirements. Anyone who cannot or does not want to obey the regulation - becomes a criminal. Here are some examples of regulations applied in different countries:

  • In Tunisia, you can engage in prostitution in only two areas: the Sfax district and the red light district in the city of Medina [i] , where only women in prostitution and men are allowed to enter. Women are only allowed to take vacations during menstruation, and they are not allowed to work in anything else [ii] .

  • In the USA, prostitution can only be practiced in licensed brothels in several rural counties of Nevada (the hundreds of women in prostitution that flood Las Vegas are actually criminals, as in the rest of the USA) [iii] .

  • In Lebanon, prostitution is legal, but in an attempt to eradicate it, the government no longer issues new licenses. Therefore, every new woman who joins the circle of prostitution is breaking the law.

  • In many of the countries that regulate the sex industry, women are required to undergo periodic health examinations (in some countries the frequency is very high, such as 20 days in Bolivia). The women are obliged to carry documents with them indicating the date of the last examination [iv] . It is not about protecting the women themselves, but their clients. Protection of the women required inspection of the brothel inspectors.

  • In New Zealand, it is the woman in prostitution who is required to enforce the obligation to use condoms, and she may be fined if she does not [v] .

  • In Berlin and other parts of Germany women are required to pay taxes in advance. The tax is usually collected by the brothel owners.

We will now refer separately to some recognized countries with regulation on the sex industry.




It is often mentioned as a synonym for an institutionalized sex industry. A law, which permits the activity of brothels, was enacted in 2000. A legal brothel is required to hold a license issued by the municipality. The women in prostitution are also required to register and get a license. The license includes a photo and a serial number, but not the woman's name. As a rule, those engaged in prostitution are not hired workers of the brothels, but freelancers who rent space from them. In the Netherlands there are many restrictions on the practice of prostitution. Each local authority determines in which areas and in what form it allows the practice of prostitution, and as a result, street prostitution and prostitution in private homes are prohibited in most areas of the country. The "red window" districts associated with the sex industry in the Netherlands are only allowed in ten cities, the largest of which are Amsterdam and The Hague [ix] .


In 2005, two Labor politicians, Emma Asante and prostitution survivor Karina Chapman, submitted a report that presented the dimensions of organized crime and violence within legal prostitution businesses. These and other reports showed that the goals of legalization had failed. In recent years, steps have been taken in the country to reduce the sex industry, this as a result of its connection with crime in general and trafficking in women in particular [x] [xi] [xii] .  Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam, claimed that the sex industry has long gone out of control. According to him, the original purpose of the institutionalization was to allow small businesses to operate. However, the sex industry was soon invaded by criminal gangs from Eastern Europe and other countries outside the Netherlands. These brought to the Netherlands victims of trafficking, drugs, murders and other criminal activity [xiii] .  Today, many municipalities make it difficult for new brothels and even existing ones to renew their license [xiv] .





In Germany, the sex industry has been regulated for a hundred years. As of today, brothels are required to hold a special license. Prostitutes can be brothel workers, but the vast majority are freelancers. Residents of EU countries can engage in prostitution in Germany, but not foreigners from non-EU countries. Each local authority may define, where it is allowed to operate a prostitution business and at what hours. You can find a wide variety of types of prostitution in Germany: street, discreet apartments, strip clubs, saunas and even mega brothels. One of them, named "Artemis", boasts a rare capacity of 600 rooms.


In 2001, a law called [xv] Prostitutionsgesetz was enacted in Germany. Its purpose was to bring about the liberalization of the sex industry, even though it was already legal. The law entered into force in 2002. The number of women in prostitution in the country varies between 90,000 and 900,000, according to various estimates.



In 2016, a new law was passed in Germany called the Prostituiertentschutzgesetz,   that is, the law for the protection of women (and others) in prostitution, which came into force in 2017. The purpose of the law was to tighten supervision of the sex industry, with the aim of correcting a number of negative consequences of the legislation the former Among other things, the new law created assistance routes for victims of trafficking and women in prostitution who are in need, and added a registration obligation for women in prostitution (which is renewed every two years for girls 21 and over, and once a year for girls 18 to 21).


Due to the registration obligation, the law was called the "bureaucratic monster". In an interview with "Nordic Model Now" magazine, Dr. Klein referred to the strengths and weaknesses of the new law. To the question of whether the law is a "bureaucratic monster" as its opponents call it, she replied: "I cannot say whether it is a bureaucratic monster. The law may help some trafficked women from Eastern Europe because they now have counseling and phone numbers they can call to get information and contact German officials. There were several cases in Munich where service organizations identified what appeared to be forced prostitution during mandatory health counseling sessions. It is important to note that although many confuse mandatory counseling with forced health examinations, it is counseling and not examination. The medical consultation is done annually."


"After the meeting, the women must register at the municipal offices. The data will be deleted after two years, if the women do not renew their registration. As mentioned, 21-year-old girls are required to renew their registration every two years, while women between the ages of 18 and 21 must go to a medical consultation every 6 months and renew their registration annually. This may help EU citizens in prostitution to prove how long they have worked and stayed in Germany, and make it easier for them to receive welfare payments and social support. The law also states that cities, municipalities or counties must provide some counseling to women in prostitution in addition to the mandatory medical counseling. There is also a concern , because most of the services that exist for women in prostitution are run by the bodies that belong to the lobby that supports the sex industry. Under the influence of the law, they began to clean up their websites, but until recently they openly stated that they demand that "sex work" be recognized as standard work, no different from work Otherwise. Many of them provided assistance to women seeking to enter prostitution, but did not offer services to women who wanted to leave it. The new law also does not contain any provision or funding for rehabilitation services, and it is up to the districts and municipalities to decide whether to provide such services."


"The law stipulates the obligation to use condoms. Refusal to comply with it is expected to result in heavy fines, which will be paid by the prostitutes. The law is therefore intended to help women insist on condoms. Finally, the law also has provisions regarding pregnant women. Thus, during the last six weeks of pregnancy, it is not possible to engage in prostitution According to the conditions of the license. Cases are known in which the government denied benefits to women at the end of pregnancy on the grounds that they continued to engage in prostitution. In fact, women trying to get out of prostitution often face obstacles of this type - welfare / social assistance officials do not believe that they have gotten out of prostitution and the minimum financial support has been denied to them." .


Dr. Inga Klein also presents an abolitionist angle:


"As an abolitionist, I think the law has two main purposes. One of them is to collect data on the extent of legal prostitution in Germany. In 2016, Germany failed to provide even a rough estimate of the number of women in prostitution. An estimate of 400,000 was mentioned in many places, but without a clear reference. In the press, Numbers ranged from 90,000 to 900,000. It was ridiculous and of course embarrassing, considering that Germany bases its justification for regulation on the importance of transparency, and the politicians and others argue against the Nordic model, because it makes the sex industry secretive."


"The second and main goal is to facilitate the collection of taxes, to make women pay for the social security system and health insurance programs. The law from 2001 was also intended for the same purpose. Its stated goal was to decriminalize women in prostitution and make social benefits available to them. In practice, it made women these to pay for the welfare mechanism. The law from 2001 was enacted at the same time as other laws in Germany, which cut the welfare system and introduced significant changes to the pension rights of married women (actually cut them) in order to make them integrate into work and pay into the system (or lose their pension rights). It was Some of the austerity ideas called 'Agenda 2010' by the government of Social Democrats and the Greens. The current law continues the system, since the mandatory registration allows the tax authorities to collect data. The taxes that the women are required to pay include income tax, value added tax (on the services provided, that is 19 % of what the buyer pays), brothel taxes. Cities can impose additional taxes (sometimes called entertainment/pleasure tax). This tax is significant for cities, generating up to €600,000 a year in places like Dusseldorf - although this figure includes taxes on strip clubs ".


"Brothels charge the women a payment through the rent for the room. They may also collect the VAT through the rent. This means that in Germany the brothels are engaged in collecting taxes. The women are supposed to keep a clear record of all clients, earnings and receipts given by the brothels, and then submit the paperwork to the tax offices as part of their tax return. Tax obligations in Germany are one of the main obstacles to leaving prostitution. The new law makes it worse, by making taxation more systematic. Additional provisions include stricter regulations for brothel owners and those who operate prostitution sites. Anyone who rents premises for prostitution purposes is now considered a pimp - with the exception of someone who engages in prostitution alone from a rented or owned place. There are also regulations concerning hygiene (the details vary from district to district), and the identity of the pimp (those convicted of trafficking will not receive a license to maintain a place of prostitution). Brothels must also allow visits by social workers, and install a safety system."


"Regulations are less strict in the case of apartments, where most of the prostitution probably takes place, and many of us believe that most of the victims of trafficking are there - just as most of the violence against women takes place in homes and private apartments and private residences. Another regulation designed to protect the women (or others) in prostitution is housing. From now on, women must have another place to sleep, other than the room in the brothel where they receive the prostitutes. On the one hand, this may improve the welfare of women in prostitution but on the other hand, they are now required to rent and finance additional accommodation. They must also be Having a permanent post office address There are already proposals (including by lawyers) to provide women in prostitution with a post office box address for a fee [xvi] .


New Zealand


New Zealand defines its form of regulation as "decriminalization", the model favored by the sex industry lobby. This legislation has been enforced in New Zealand since 2003 by virtue of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 [xvii] . The difference between "decriminalization" and "legalization" of Germany and the Netherlands is mainly in the way, in which the supporters of the sex industry describe their ideological basis. In their view, "legalization" is intended to minimize the inevitable damages of the sex industry, while "decriminalization" treats the sex industry as another service industry. The purpose of the legalization model (Holland, parts of Australia, Germany, Switzerland) is to recognize the sex industry as a phenomenon that cannot be eradicated, but its damage can be minimized. To this end, laws are enacted whose purpose, at least in theory, is to ensure the minimization of harm (Harm reduction - another term that stars in discussions). For example, in the Netherlands the prostitutes have to ask the women for a work license (to make sure they are not victims of trafficking), and in Germany the women have to renew their license once every two years and while meeting the representatives of the authorities and receiving advice.


The goal of the decriminalization model (New Zealand,  New South Wales in Australia) is to turn the sex industry into "another service industry". This model in its purest form does not recognize essential differences between the sex industry and the restaurant industry or the cosmetic treatment industry. Within its framework, the sex industry is subject to general regulation - labor legislation, tax laws, Ministry of Health regulations and other regulations, but on a theoretical level, it is not about the regulation of brothels specifically, but the regulation of another business activity. Will there be visits by health ministry inspectors? So what, the food industry also has health checks. A brothel is closing? It's not because it's a prostitution apartment, it's because there was a business activity that disturbed the neighbors. Are there restrictions on advertising? Obviously, the advertising of alcohol products is also limited.


Despite the fundamental differences, these two models are  similar or almost identical. Under both models mediation activities, such as pimping and running brothels, can be legal if they meet the requirements of the law. Under both models, a person wishing to open a brothel must apply for a license. If he accepts - he will have to adhere to regulatory requirements that vary from country to country, and of course pay taxes. The women in prostitution can be hired by the brothel owners, freelancers who work in the brothel, or completely independent; In practice, it is almost impossible to find women in prostitution who get paid. Under both models, the women in prostitution are required to pay taxes every month and meet the regulatory requirements. Both models make the sex industry a part of the local economy, from which taxes flow to the state and local authorities.


It can be said that the "decriminalization" model is not applied in its pure form in New Zealand either. Despite the liberal regulation, the state institutions recognize that the sex industry is not "another service industry". For example, the employment bureaus do not refer job seekers to prostitution and it is not possible to see a "spillover" of prostitution services to other industries. Also "labor migration" for the purpose of engaging in prostitution does not exist in New Zealand. Anyone who engages in prostitution and is not a resident of the country - breaks the law. The attempt to allow in the immigration law for the purpose of engaging in this prostitution was done in the past but was unsuccessful, among other things due to the fear of creating a legal route for human trafficking. The local authorities even made attempts to limit the practice of prostitution to certain areas. The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 even requires the prostitute to enforce the use of condoms, and a fine of 2000 New Zealand dollars is imposed on the violator of this section [xviii] .


In some ways, New Zealand law is more liberal than the German one. For example, it does not require women to be licensed or registered of the type required in Germany as of 2016, and it allows brothels of less than 4 women to operate without a license. Is it for the better? Not everyone knows. The local prostitution survivor organization Wahine Toa Rising [xix] reports the prevalence of violence in legal brothels and the minors held in them. According to the organization, the complete lack of supervision is a breeding ground for exploitation and violence.




[iii] Basically, all income is taxable, not just income from legitimate work. Therefore, even in a country that does not recognize prostitution as a profession, a woman in prostitution may be required to pay tax. In practice, enforcement



[vi] Farley, Melissa, ed. (2007). Prostitution and trafficking in Nevada: making the connections. San Francisco: Prostitution Research and Education



[ix] [ix] netherlands/

[x] -workers-netherlands-legal-prostitution-sex-workers/










[X] The source is the TAMPEP organization, an organization that treats sex trafficking as a legitimate business and work. The real number may be higher

Date table Institutionalizing prostitution
bottom of page