Prostitution in Europe

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The legality of prostitution in Europe varies by country.

Some countries outlaw the act of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money, while others allow prostitution itself but not most forms of procuring (such as operating brothels, facilitating the prostitution of another, deriving financial gain from the prostitution of another, soliciting/loitering).

In eight European countries (The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Latvia) prostitution is legal and regulated.

The degree of enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws vary by country, by region and by city. In many places there is a big discrepancy between the laws which exist on the books and what happens in practice.

Depending on the country, various prostitution related activities may be prohibited (where a specific law forbids such activity), decriminalized (where there is no specific law either forbidding or allowing and regulating the activity), or regulated (where a specific law explicitly allows and regulates the activity if certain conditions are met). Activities which are subject to the prostitution laws include: selling and buying sexual services, soliciting in public places, running brothels, deriving financial gain from the prostitution of another, offering premises to be used for prostitution etc. Often the prostitution laws are not clear-cut and are subject to interpretation, leading to many legal loopholes. While the policy regarding adult prostitution differs by country, child prostitution is illegal throughout Europe. Similarly, human trafficking, forced prostitution and other abusive activities are also prohibited.

The red light district De Wallen in Amsterdam
The monument to prostitutes in Amsterdam

The legal and social treatment of prostitution differs widely by country. Very liberal prostitution policies exist in the Netherlands and Germany, and these countries are major destinations for international sex tourism. Amsterdam's prostitution windows are famous all over the world. In Sweden, Norway, and Iceland it is illegal to pay for sex, but not to be a prostitute (the client commits a crime, but not the prostitute). In Eastern Europe, the anti-prostitution laws target the prostitutes, because in these countries prostitution is condemned from a moral\conservative viewpoint. Other countries which have restrictive prostitution policies and officially affirm an anti-prostitution stance are the UK, Ireland and France. Among countries where prostitution is not officially and legally regulated and recognized as a job, laissez-faire and tolerant attitudes exist in Spain, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

This page uses the UN system of subregions.

Eastern Europe[edit]


In Armenia, prostitution itself is legal, pimping, however, is punished by a prison term.[1] Operating a brothel and engaging in other forms of pimping are crimes punishable by one to 10 years' imprisonment.[2]


Prostitution is illegal in Belarus. However prostitution is present in the country, particularly in regions outside the main cities and in hotels.[3]


Prostitution itself is legal, but organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings or other forms of procuring) is prohibited.[4] Because of poor socioeconomic conditions, a high number of Romani women were involved in prostitution.[4][5]

It originally gained a reputation as a transit for human trafficking, and now it has gained a reputation for being a destination for the sex trade to take place.[6][7]

The Bulgarian government is stepping up its efforts to eradicate human trafficking.[7] The sex trade is a major money maker for Bulgarian criminals.[8][9][10] The Bulgarian government did consider fully legalizing and regulating prostitution.[11]

There are 20,000 Bulgarian prostitutes abroad and its source of foreign exchange earnings for Bulgaria.[12]

Czech Republic[edit]

In the Czech Republic, prostitution is legal, but brothels or other forms of procuring are prohibited.[13] The enforcement of these laws is lax and prostitution and other activities which surround it are very common in the country.

Ever since the Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution (1989) led to the creation of the two independent states Czech Republic and Slovakia, prostitution has been flourishing, and has contributed its share to the region's booming tourist economy. It is widespread in Prague and areas near the Republic's western borders with Germany and Austria. In 2002, the Czech Statistical Bureau estimated the trade to be worth six billion crowns ($217 million) a year.[14]


Prostitution is legal and regulated in Hungary (it has been legalized and regulated by the government since 1999). Under the law, prostitutes are basically professionals who engage in sexual activities in exchange for money. The government allows this activity as long as they pay taxes and keep legal documents.


Prostitution in Moldova is illegal, but because it is Europe's poorest country, it is a major exporter of human trafficking for the purpose of the sex trade.[15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] Human traffickers prey most on the women from the poor villages.[22] Women and children are trafficked for sexual exploitation to Turkey, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Russia, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, France, Italy, and Portugal.[23] The authorities are trying to lead awareness among the population about the extent of this problem. During the last years, the authorities have launched numerous information campaigns, including one which consisted of billboards in the streets of the capital, Chişinău, depicting a girl gripped in a huge clenched fist, being exchanged for dollars, which read: "You are not for sale".[22]


In Poland prostitution is legal, but operating brothels or other forms of pimping or coercive prostitution and prostitution of minors are prohibited.


Prostitution has been decriminalized in Romania in 2014.[24] The government had considered legalizing and regulating it (in 2007). The Association for the Promotion of Women in Romania opposes legalized prostitution, as they view prostitution as "another form of violence against women and girls".[25] Also, the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) often protests against prostitution.[citation needed]

Romania is among the 11 countries listed by the United Nations as the biggest sources of human trafficking, based on reported numbers of victims.[26] Every year thousands of women and girls, some as young as 13, are kidnapped or lured by promises of well-paid jobs or marriage and sold to gangs who lock them up in night clubs and brothels or force them to work on the streets.[26][27]

Homeless children in Romania have increasingly been trafficked under false pretenses and forced into prostitution in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands.[28] On January 20, 2010, Iana Matei was named "European of the Year" by Reader's Digest for finding and rehabilitating victims of forced prostitution.[29][30][31][32]


Prostitution is an administrative, but not criminal offence in Russia (such as, for example, drinking beer in a public place or walking nude on the street). The maximum punishment is a fine up to 2000 rubles (~$65); however, organizing prostitution or engaging somebody into prostitution is punishable by a prison term.


Prostitution itself is legal, but operating brothels and other activities related to prostitution are prohibited.[33]


Prostitution is illegal in the Ukraine, but is nevertheless widespread and largely ignored by the government. Sex tourism rose as the country attracted greater numbers of foreign tourists. Laws criminalizing organized prostitution and penalties for human trafficking have had little effect because many convicted traffickers often do not end up serving prison time.

Northern Europe[edit]


In Denmark, prostitution itself is legal, but operating brothels and other forms of pimping are illegal activities.[34]


Prostitution itself is legal, but organized prostitution is illegal.

Faroe Islands[edit]

Under Danish Jurisdiction, the legal status of prostitution remains lawful. However there is no evidence of organised prostitution within the self-governing territory.


Prostitution itself is legal in Finland (soliciting in a public place is illegal) but organized prostitution (operating a brothel or a prostitution ring and other forms of pimping) is illegal. In June 2006, parliament voted by 158 to 15 with four abstentions to approve a bill which outlaws the buying of sexual services from prostitutes if it is linked to human trafficking. According to a recent TAMPEP study, 69% of prostitutes are foreigners. As of 2009, there was little 'visible' prostitution in Finland as it was mostly limited to private residences and nightclubs in larger metropolitan areas.


Paying for sex is illegal in Iceland (the client commits a crime but the prostitute does not).[35]

Opinion polls have shown that up to 70% of the population supports banning the purchase of sexual services.[35]


Prostitution itself is legal in the Republic of Ireland, but the law criminalises many activities associated with it (solicitation in a public place, operating a brothel or other forms of pimping). However, female escort prostitution is widespread. Swedish-type legislation is being considered which would outlaw paying for sex, meaning that the client would commit a crime but not the prostitute.[36]


Prostitution is legal and regulated in Latvia. Prostitutes must register, must undergo monthly health checks and must carry a health card; if they fail to do so they can be penalized.[37] Although prostitution is regulated in Latvia, brothels and other forms of procuring are illegal. According to the law "Any activity of the third person which promotes prostitution is prohibited" and "Persons are prohibited to join in groups in order to offer and provide sexual services..."[37]


Prostitution in Lithuania is illegal, but it is common. The penalty for prostitution is a fine of $120 to $200 (300 to 500 litas) for a single offense and up to $400 (1,000 litas) for repeat offenses.[38]


Paying for sex is illegal (the client commits a crime but the prostitute does not). This law prohibiting the buying of sexual services (sexkjøpsloven) came into effect on January 1, 2009, following the passing of new legislation by the Storting in November 2008.


Paying for sex is illegal (the client commits a crime but not the prostitute). The Sex Purchase Act (Sexköpslagen), which makes it illegal to pay for sex but not to be a prostitute, was adopted in 1999 and was then unique. Since then similar laws have been passed in Norway and Iceland.

The rationale underpinning the law was the view that prostitution was a form of violence against women so the crime consists in the customer paying for sex, not in the prostitute selling sexual services.[39] This 'rationale' sees the seller of sex as the exploited partner in the exchange.[40]

Southern Europe[edit]


Prostitution in Albania is illegal, but the country is a major exporter of human trafficking.[41] Nearly all of the prostitutes in Albania come from Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria and are bought to Albania as it is seen as a gateway to Europe, especially Italy.[citation needed]


Prostitution in Andorra is illegal.[42]

Bosnia and Herzegovina[edit]

Prostitution is illegal. The law treats procuring as a major crime. Under the law, trafficking is a state-level crime that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.[43]


Prostitution in Croatia is illegal. Forcible prostitution, any kind of brothels or procuring are treated as felony, while voluntary prostitution is considered to be infraction against public order (for prostitutes only; clients are not in violation of law). Like in many other Southeast European countries, the problem of human trafficking for the purposes of sex is big in Croatia. However, according the U.S. State Department, Croatia is a tier 1 country, actively working to prevent the sex trade.[44][45]


Prostitution is legal and regulated in Greece. Greek authorities decided to implement a 1999 law which stipulates that all brothels must have permits.[46] Persons engaged in prostitution must register at the local prefecture and carry a medical card which is updated every two weeks. It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 women are legally employed as prostitutes and approximately 20,000 women, most of foreign origin, are engaged in illegal prostitution.[47] Street prostitution is dominated by Albanian refugees and immigrants.[48] According to NGO estimates, there are 13,000-14,000 trafficking victims in the country at any given time. Major countries of origin for trafficking victims include Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Albania, Moldova, Romania, and Belarus.[47]


A street prostitute talking to a potential customer in Torino, Italy, 2005
Main article: Prostitution in Italy

In Italy, prostitution itself is legal, but the law prohibits organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings or similar commercial enterprises and other forms of pimping).[49] In 2008 the Government approved a law proposal by one of its ministry to forbid street prostitution but the proposal has never been converted into law so street prostitution is still legal in Italy and is very common. Italy is listed by the UNDOC as a top destination for victims of human trafficking.[50]


Prostitution itself is legal, but certain activities connected with it, such as running a brothel and loitering, are not. Certain offences are punishable by sentences of up to two years in prison.[51]

In March 2008, police and the Ministry for Social Policy signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize a screening process for all arrested persons engaged in prostitution to determine whether they were victims of trafficking or other abuses.[51] The law provides punishments of up to 6 years for involving minors in prostitution.[52]


In Portugal, prostitution itself is legal, but organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings and other forms of pimping) are prohibited. Forced prostitution and human trafficking are also illegal.[53] By the mid-2000s, the number of female prostitutes was estimated at 28,000, of which at least 50% were foreigners.[54][55]

Republic of Macedonia[edit]

Prostitution in the Republic of Macedonia is illegal. The country is a major transit point for prostitution to the west.[56][57] The Macedonian government is trying to clamp down on prostitution.[58] The trafficking of women for sex is worth billions in Macedonia and is considered to be run primarily by Albanian gangsters.[59]


Prostitution in Serbia is illegal and can incur a prison sentence of between 5 and 10 years.


Prostitution is illegal and can incur a prison sentence of between 5 and 10 years. However the latest report adds that Prostitution has become a new organized crime in Kosovo.[60]


Prostitution in Slovenia was decriminalised from 2003.[61]


Main article: Prostitution in Spain

Prostitution itself is legal in Spain, but pimping is not. Owning an establishment where prostitution takes place is legal if the owner neither derives financial gain from prostitution nor hires any person for the purposes of selling sex because prostitution is not considered a job, and has no legal recognition. Municipalities vary in their approach to regulating prostitution, both indoor and outdoor.


In Turkey, prostitution is legal and regulated. Prostitutes must register and acquire an ID card stating the dates of their health checks. Also it is mandatory for registered prostitutes to have regular health checks for sexually transmitted diseases. The police are allowed to check the authenticity of registered prostitutes to determine whether they have been examined properly and to ensure they see the health authorities if they don't. Men cannot register under this regulation. Most sex workers, however, are unregistered, as local governments have made it policy not to issue new registrations. As a result most sex workers in Turkey are not registered sex workers, working in violation of the law.[62][63] Turkey is listed by the UNODC as a top destination for victims of human trafficking.[50]

Western Europe[edit]


This is an example of regulated prostitution. Prostitution is legal but restricted by several regulations. Most prostitutes are migrants, mainly from the former Eastern Bloc countries.[64]


Rue d'Aerschot, Brussels: A portion of the street, with red lights and prostitutes visible. Prostitution is tolerated in Belgium.

Prostitution itself is legal in Belgium, but the law prohibits operating brothels and other forms of pimping[65] or assisting immigration for the purpose of prostitution. However, in practice enforcement can be lax and "unofficial" brothels are tolerated (for example in Antwerp). Human trafficking or exploiting individuals for financial gain is punishable for a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.[66] A recent report by RiskMonitor foundation found that 70% of the prostitutes who work in Belgium are from Bulgaria.[67] Belgium is listed by the UNODC as a top destination for victims of human trafficking.[50] Many sex workers organisations feel that the present grey area in which prostitution operates leaves sex workers vulnerable to exploitation.[68][69][70][71][72]


Prostitution itself is legal in France, but organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings and other forms of pimping) is prohibited. Solicitation is also illegal.


Prostitution is legal and regulated in Germany. In 2002, the government changed the law in an effort to improve the legal situation of prostitutes. Germany is listed by the UNODC as one of the most common destinations for victims of human trafficking.[50]


Prostitution in Liechtenstein is illegal but is tolerated by the police as long as it is not street prostitution.[73][74][75]


Prostitution itself is legal in Luxembourg, but activities associated with organized prostitution, such as profiting from (operating brothels and prostitution rings) or aiding prostitution are illegal.[76] Human trafficking incurs severe penalties.[77] [78]


Prostitution itself is legal in Monaco, but organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings and other forms of pimping) is prohibited.


Scene from Amsterdam's red light district. The Netherlands has one of the most liberal prostitution policies in the world

Prostitution is legal and regulated in the Netherlands. The country has one of the most liberal prostitution policies in the world and attracts sex tourists from many European countries and from the US.

Netherlands is listed by the UNODC as a top destination for victims of human trafficking.[50]


Prostitution in Switzerland is legal and regulated; it has been legal since 1942.[79][80] Licensed brothels, typically with a reception and leading to several studio apartments, are available. Street prostitution is illegal, except in specially designated areas in the major cities. Many prostitutes operate using newspaper advertisements, mobile phones and secondary rented apartments. It is legal to advertise for "massages" in Swiss tabloid newspapers. Swiss prostitutes pay VAT (value added tax) on their services and some accept credit cards. The majority of prostitutes are foreigners from the Americas, Central Europe or the Far East. In recent years the number of prostitutes has increased. The prostitution business often becomes violent; it can involve attacks, turf wars, gunfights and arson attacks on rivals' prostitution establishments.[81]

Prostitution is legal over eighteen years of age, having been raised from 16 in 2013, However it is still only legal to recruit teens between 16 and 18, but a person is still not liable for utilizing the services of a prostitute 16 or older according to : [82].[83] (see Article 196 of the Criminal Code of Switzerland [84]). Furthermore, the local authorities in Zurich installed carport-like constructions called Verrichtungsboxen or 'sex boxes' to protect street prostitutes. [85][86] In 2012, voters approved the creation of "sex boxes" in Zurich to control suburban prostitution. These have recently been described as a "success" by local authorities after a year[87] but a number of sex workers who have seen their earnings decline, disagree.[88]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, prostitution itself is legal,[89] but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, keeping a brothel, pimping and pandering, are outlawed.

The Policing and Crime Act 2009 makes it illegal to pay for sex with a prostitute who has been "subjected to force" and this is a strict liability offence (clients can be prosecuted even if they didn’t know the prostitute was forced).[90][91]

See also[edit]


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