The labyrinth of sex work regulations: assessing policy approaches in Europe

By Bryan Bayne (Olomouc, Uppsala, 2020–2022) and Carolina Reyes (Uppsala, Olomouc, 2021–2023).

It is hard not to notice the bright neon of the windows in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. And if you are a Latino like us, that comes as a culture shock – throughout Latin America prostitution is deeply frowned upon and mostly relegated to the darkest corners of society. So we naturally asked ourselves: what is the European sex work culture? How does it differ from other places and what are its effects on society?

As we expected, it turns out there is no single Europe-wide attitude to sex work. There are four different policy approaches and our objective with this article is to analyze them and find out which ones are “the best.” When analyzing public policy, the best approach is a cost-benefit analysis applied to whether that policy achieves its stated aims or not. This allows for a greater degree of objectivity and frees us from most of the moral biases stemming from culture and religion. 

In this case, we argue that the primary objective of any law concerning sex work is promoting the welfare of sex workers — the majority of which are women. The secondary objective should be to curb human trafficking; we rank this as the second objective because we believe law enforcement is primarily responsible for that task and sex work policy is merely complimentary. 

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