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From the Red Light to the Red Carpet: Legalization, Deliberation, and the Paradoxical Challenges to Sex Work Policy in the Netherlands Open Access


Other title
policy making
sex work
urban renewal
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Barber, Amee
Supervisor and department
Harder, Lois (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Patten, Steve (Political Science)
Jeffrey, Leslie (Political Science)
Kahane, Steve (Political Science)
Lightbody, James (Political Science)
Smith-Prei, Carrie (Political Science)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation utilizes deliberative democratic theory to analyze two moments of Dutch policy-making around sex work. The first moment covers the period from 1990 to 2000, the decade prior to the full legalization of the sex industry in the Netherlands, and includes a focus on the national, legal-parliamentary process that resulted in the lifting of the Brothel Ban. The second moment explores the decade after the legalization of sex work, when sex work policy was decentralized, and narrows the focus to Amsterdam’s local policy-making system. Sex work advocates heralded the lifting of the Brothel Ban as a victory for the legal rights of all sex industry personnel and cited its democratic character, a feature resulting from the meaningful inclusion of marginalized political subjects. Soon after legalization, however, the sex industry was politically excluded from the local policy-making processes that had recently been given responsibility for sex work regulation. In the absence of the sex industry, Amsterdam’s private and public sector elites partnered to create Project 1012, a set of policies that sought the physical restructuring of Amsterdam’s core and aimed to revamp its image by reducing the number of window brothels by at least forty per cent. To implement Project 1012, the project’s proponents purchased a number of window brothels and restricted the emergence of new brothels in Amsterdam’s core with the use of an exclusionary zoning plan. Amsterdam’s municipal authorities also used the national Public Administration Probity in Decision-Making Act (the BIBOB), passed in 2003, to put the Red Light District’s (RLD) remaining window brothels under routine investigation on grounds of suspicion of criminal activity. Under such pressure, several window brothel owners sold their properties for other uses. By comparing and contrasting these separate policy moments using a set of criteria I derive from deliberative democratic theory, I demonstrate a shift in the political character of sex work policy-making. Through the description of these two policy periods, it becomes clear that the development of these policies, their framing and the municipal tools used to enact them evince a marked shift in both the degree of legitimacy that sex work was ascribed and in the involvement of sex industry personnel in the policy-making process. The contrasts that emerge between these two time periods clearly sets them apart with respect to their democratic legitimacy. In ii assessing the consequences of this shift for those involved in the sex industry I show that while all who hold a stake in the RLD’s sex businesses have been negatively impacted by Project 1012, the sex worker, particularly the migrant sex worker, is the most disenfranchised by this political shift. The discussion of consequences is followed by an investigation of those factors that most strongly contributed to the shift, such as the discovery of human-trafficking rings within Amsterdam, the emergence of a strong anti-trafficking campaign, rising racial tensions and xenophobia, as well as an intense, neoliberal, European intra-urban competition. These social and economic forces, discourse and factors have all combined to change the way in which sex work is understood and have compelled a need to close the RLD, a symbol of Dutch progressive tolerance, in order to protect it and its workers from ‘foreign’ influence, as well as improve Amsterdam’s international competitiveness. Project 1012 reimagines the RLD in the absence of both sex workers and ‘foreigners,’ aims to make it more commercially profitable and return the space to those deemed more deserving. The sense of urgency instilled by these discourses has trumped the use of deliberative democratic policy mechanisms as a way to address the morally contentious topic of sex work and uncover alternate visions for the RLD. iii
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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