- Associated Press - Sunday, January 16, 2011

AMSTERDAM | Workers in the world’s oldest profession are about to get a lesson in the harsh reality of Europe’s new age of austerity.

The Dutch government has warned prostitutes who advertise their wares in the famed windows of Amsterdam’s red-light district to expect a business-only visit from the tax man.

Prostitution has flourished in Amsterdam since the 1600s, when the Netherlands was a major naval power and sailors swaggered into the port looking for a good time. The country legalized the practice a decade ago, but authorities are only now getting around to looking to sex workers for taxes.

“We began at the larger places, the brothels, so now we’re moving on to the window landlords and the ladies,” said Janneke Verheggen, spokeswoman for the country’s Tax Service.

The move is meeting with little formal opposition, even among prostitutes — though some are skeptical it can be enforced. But it marks yet another shift away from the permissive attitudes that once prevailed in the Netherlands.

A prostitute advertises her wares behind red-lit windows in Amsterdam. Workers in the world's oldest profession are about to get a lesson in the harsh reality of Europe's new age of austerity. Amid budget cuts and falling revenues, the Dutch government has warned prostitutes to expect a visit from the tax man. (Associated Press)
A prostitute advertises her wares behind red-lit windows in Amsterdam. Workers in ... more >

“It’s a good thing that they’re doing this,” said Samantha, a statuesque blond Dutchwoman in a white leather dress who offers her services from behind one of the hundreds of red-curtained windows in the heart of the city’s ancient center.

“It’s a job like any other, and we should pay taxes,” she said.

She said she has been paying her share for years and felt she was competing on unequal terms with women who didn’t, many of them immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Although the Netherlands has weathered the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis better than many countries, the government ran a deficit of 6 percent in 2010 and is cutting spending and raising taxes in hopes of balancing the budget by 2015.

Prostitutes were told they would be audited in typically bureaucratic fashion, with a notice addressed “to landlords and window prostitutes in Amsterdam” published earlier this month in the city’s main newspaper.

“Agents of the Tax Service will walk through various elements of your business administration with you, such as prices, staffing, agendas and calendars,” the notice said.

“The facts will be used at a later date in reviewing your returns.”

Though the Dutch state is not going to fill its coffers just by squeezing prostitutes, the sex trade is a serious industry that went almost entirely untaxed until legalization.

The Central Bureau of Statistics estimates prostitution generates $865 million in annual turnover, or a little less than $65 per person in a country of 16 million — though many customers are tourists.

Under Dutch law, prostitutes should be charging 19 percent sales tax on each transaction. Customers typically pay $65 for a 15-minute session. In addition, after-expense profits are personal income, taxed at anywhere from 33 percent for someone making less than $23,000 per year to 52 percent for people making more than $70,000.

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