Taxing Prostitutes: a tricky question

January 9, 2011 — Leave a comment

Having lived in a number of countries I am always drawn to the international section of my local paper. I like to keep a proprietary eye on the goings on in places I have lived, no matter if it was over twenty years ago. So a slither of news in the Houston Chronicle under The Netherlands caught my eye this morning – Prostitutes now subject to taxes it stated. How I wondered were the men from the finance department going to calculate those taxes? Do the girls keep up-to-date records of the men climbing the stairs to their boudoirs? Upon further investigation in the English language paper in The Netherlands, Dutch News.nl, I learnt that prostitutes heretofore have been tax exempt under humanitarian grounds. I smiled at that. I also learnt from the same paper that Amsterdam council is taking tough action against illegal prostitution, the tax service has decided to view legal prostitutes as ‘hardworking freelancers. I smiled at that too!

Having lived also in Thailand for a number of years where prostitution is not legal but is an accepted part of society, the legality and morality of the sex industry has intrigued me. Thai culture is patriarchal and it is quietly accepted that men will stray. It’s that humanitarian thing again I suppose. The reasoning seems to be that better to go with a whore than have a mistress. Having a mistress continually looting the family coffers under the cover of business travel, with the possible threat of wreaking havoc on a comfortable way of life for the legal spouse could be deemed an irritant. Maybe that is why Thai hospitals are renowned for their microsurgery. Doctors are practiced in repairing penises chopped off by wives no longer willing to turn a blind eye to a philandering husband.

Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy are the starting points in Bangkok for those looking for titillation, or a bit on the side. I have seen some of the entertainments on offer and found them sad and sordid rather salacious. I have also talked to some of the girls offering themselves to any, and I mean any, man who walks through the bead curtain to the bar. Often country girls, sometimes sold by a parent to a patron, in the city earning cash to send back to the family eking a living off the land. Sometimes kidnapped and then plied with drugs to make them amenable, sometimes just lost souls, but most with a sad story to tell.

We had many visitors whilst living in the Land of Smiles. One particular couple were keen to experience the seedier aspects of Thai culture, so we escorted them to Patpong one evening. Visiting the bars was not, I hasten to add, a regular event in our lives and on this particular occasion my husband suggested I might like to stay home. It was the evening I had the honour of being forcibly ejected from a bar for attacking the young and lithe girl who draped herself over said husband, before we’d even got to the bar. The girls radars were normally very good; a man accompanied by a woman was not on the whole a good bet. No money there kind of reasoning. But this particular girl’s antennae was off beat, and I was eight and half months pregnant. It would have been sensible in retrospect to stay at home.

But the question remains. Is it better to legalise prostitution like the Dutch? All above board, monitored for health and safety, and now promising to be a taxable industry. The Thai girls may not be officially taxed but they, and their minders, most certainly pay corrupt officials and gangs for protection. Would the spread of HIV be lessened with legalised prostitution? Would human trafficking lose one of its contractors?

In America the legality of prostitution is a decision left up to the individual state governments. Nevada is the only state that has legalised it, but only in certain counties. Like a great deal of legislation in the country it is a patchwork of opinions and decisions that often leads to obfuscation.

The article has made me wonder though if my tax status would change if I still lived in The Netherlands. I am a hardworking freelancer, though not in that particular field.

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