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15 Countries Where Prostitution Is Legal and How It Works

Updated January 14, 2020 353.6k views15 items

The number of countries where legal prostitution is treated as a controlled industry is astounding. In fact, there are 77 countries that have completely legalized it and 11 that have limited prostitution but still allow it. Some places, like the United States, have made it illegal with a few exceptions. In the US, prostitution is legal in some rural counties in Nevada, but sex workers are required to register with the state and undergo regular health checks.

Many countries have cut down on prostitution in a roundabout way by confining it to red light districts or by making it extremely difficult for sex workers to actually get clients. For example, prostitution is technically legal in the United Kingdom, but they’ve outlawed brothels, solicitation, and advertising of any kind, making it difficult to actually work as a prostitute within the confines of the law. This list explores the ins and outs of legal prostitution around the globe.

  • Canada has no law against the exchange of sex for money; it’s pimping or owning a brothel that is prohibited. It’s also illegal to market or communicate publicly regarding prostitution. Much like Belize, Canada has established contradicting laws. It is legal to be a sex worker, but as of 2014, it’s illegal to purchase sexual services.

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  • While anti-prostitution laws and how they are enforced vary by country, they also vary within certain areas of any given country regardless of what nation-wide laws state. While Belgium allows prostitution and prohibits brothels, many brothels are still openly operated without any consequences. They are seen as a nuisance, but authorities put no effort into policing red light districts.

    Places like Villa Tinto, the self-proclaimed most high-tech brothel in Europe, has an elaborate operation that involves prostitutes clocking in via biometric fingerprint scanner and posing in a boutique-like display window to lure in potential clients.

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  • Belize is a bit tricky. They didn’t want to come out and prohibit prostitution, nor do they do much to combat it, so technically it’s legal there. However, it’s only legal to be a prostitute, not buy one for the night. Officials decided to attack the industry at the “demand” level, instead of going after the suppliers. Many other countries have decided to institute similar laws, treating prostitutes as victims instead of criminals. 

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  • While prostitution is legal in France as long as there are no pimps, brothels, or advertising involved, the French Government passed a bill in 2003 which made even "passive soliciting" illegal. This new law categorized using one's clothing or posture as a method of “advertising prostitution.” If any of the 18,000 prostitutes in the country were found guilty of “disturbing the peace,” they faced six months in prison or a fine of up to $7,500.

    This caused 500 prostitutes to protest outside of parliament, saying the bill threatened their livelihood. Some donned masks and many held signs with phrases such as, "You sleep with us, you vote against us," written on them. It was the profession's largest protest since 1975. 

    As of 2016, a new law will treat the sex worker as a victim rather than a criminal. They’ve decided to crack down on the clients like many other countries have. Anyone caught trying to purchase sex will be fined and sent to classes on the harms of prostitution. They’ve also decided to push programs to help sex workers find safer employment, including foreign sex workers residing illegally in France. They will be granted a temporary residence permit and encouraged to join the program to find safer work.

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