Prostitution in Europe

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 (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 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 (in)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 moralconservative 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.

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