Paying the price. The criminalisation of sex with 16- and 17-year-olds for payment

Having sex for payment with a child aged sixteen or seventeen is a criminal offence in the Netherlands. The maximum sentence for the crime is four years’ imprisonment. Research by the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children has shown that in the first six months of 2015, as many clients were prosecuted and tried for having sex with sixteen- or seventeen-year-old children for payment as in the past fourteen years.

Since the criminal offence was created in 2000, 61 clients have been convicted of paying for sex with children of those ages. The actual number of clients is probably substantially higher. According to the National Rapporteur, Corinne Dettmeijer, the Public Prosecution Service must therefore persevere with the policy it has pursued since 2015 of actively apprehending and prosecuting clients and investigating the clients in every human trafficking case involving children. “Moreover, the courts should also strive for greater uniformity in sentencing and endeavour to explain the grounds for the sentences they impose more clearly”, says Dettmeijer.

Minors must be protected against commercial sex. Clients who pay for sex with minors are committing a serious violation of their sexual integrity, which can have severe physical and psychological consequences for the victim. The research by the National Rapporteur highlights the diversity of the phenomenon: both boys and girls are victims and the sex takes place in a wide variety of locations, anywhere from a hotel or a lock-up to a car or a park. However, some minors have also been discovered working in the regulated prostitution sector, for example in sex clubs and window prostitution. The suspects were all men, whose ages ranged from less than eighteen to in their sixties.

Human trafficking

In many cases there is a connection with human trafficking, which means that a third person has induced the minor to engage in prostitution or has facilitated it. The minor is then a victim of both the human trafficker and the client. There is also a second category of victims: minors who independently offer to perform sexual acts for payment of their own volition. For the purposes of the criminal law, it is irrelevant whether the minor is a victim of human trafficking or has offered his or her sexual services entirely voluntarily; in both cases the client is committing an offence against public morals simply by paying a minor for sex.

Scale of the problem

It is not known how many people are guilty of paying for sex with children aged sixteen or seventeen. The Public Prosecution Service has registered 177 suspects in the last fifteen years. The National Rapporteur believes the actual number is substantially higher. In the last five years alone, 423 children aged sixteen or seventeen have been registered as possible victims of human trafficking who had reportedly been working in the sex industry and must therefore have had at least one client. There were also minors who had been exploited for far longer periods, sometimes as long as a year.

Victims also include children under the age of sixteen

The study focused on victims aged sixteen and seventeen because paying for sex with children in that age group is a separate offence under the law. In principle, having sex with children under the age of sixteen is always a criminal offence whether it is paid for or not. It is apparent from the statistics on human trafficking that younger children are also victims of this offence: 169 children under the age of sixteen were registered as having been sexually exploited in the last five years. The youngest was an eleven year old child.

Sentences vary greatly

The sentences imposed for having sex with a minor for payment vary widely: from one day in prison with community service up to an unconditional prison sentence of several months. The factors mentioned in the grounds for sentencing and the weight attached by the court to those factors also vary. The National Rapporteur therefore recommends that the courts endeavour to explain their reasons for the sentence more clearly and to create greater uniformity in sentencing.