Thousands of young people sign petition demanding stricter laws on prostitution in the Netherlands

"Ik ben onbetaalbaar" translates as "I'm priceless"(Photo: Instagram/Exposse)

Some 42,000 young people have signed a petition demanding that it be made illegal to visit a prostitute in the Netherlands. 

The Exposse movement, which has brought together Christian and feminist groups, gained momentum after powerful images about the worth of women were posted to Instagram. 

The images showed people holding black and white letter boards with slogans like "Ik ben onbetaalbaar" (I'm priceless), "what if it was your sister?", and "prostitution is both a cause and consequence of inequality". 

In the Netherlands, where Amsterdam's famed Red Light District is a tourist hotspot, prostitution has been legal since 2000. 

The country is one of the most permissive in the world when it comes to regulating the sex industry, with the law permitting prostitution to take place as long as it is "sex between consenting adults".

But campaigners argue that the current system exploits vulnerable women and has fuelled human trafficking. 

They are pushing for the Netherlands to follow the 'Nordic model' rolled out across Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland and France, where punishment is borne by the buyer and not the seller. 

They argue that the Nordic model has reduced the demand for buying sex and made these countries less of a target for human traffickers. 

Exposse movement co-founder Sara Lous, who has worked in a rehabilitation centre for ex-prostitutes, told the BBC that "so much is going wrong" with the Netherlands' current decriminalisation approach to selling sex. 

"We have so much human trafficking and Amsterdam is most vulnerable because of the high demand for cheap sex," she said. 

She believes the women currently involved in prostitution are capable of finding other work. 

"They should have help to find other skills," she said.

A board member on the sex-workers' collective Proud, who goes by the name Foxxy, disagrees and says that the current system offers the best protection for sex workers.

"This petition is not in the sex workers' interest. It's people who read the Bible who are trying to stop us," she told the BBC.

"If this happens sex workers will work illegally. Then we're more likely to be victims of violence. Clients will know we can't go to the police.

"We will be much more at risk, clients will try to take condoms off, we're more at risk of being exposed to HIV. It happened in France when they started this Nordic model."

Louise Gleich, Senior Policy Officer on Human Trafficking at Christian advocacy group CARE, said welcomed the campaign, though. 

She agreed with campaigners that criminalisation was an effective way of reducing demand for paid sex and levels of human trafficking.

"CARE believes that people were created for purpose, not purchase. Buying someone's body is a violation of their fundamental dignity as a human being," she said.

"There is clearly strong support for a new approach in the Netherlands towards prostitution, especially among well-informed young people.

"This is hugely significant because the Netherlands has some of the most liberal laws anywhere in the world, as evidenced by the infamous red-light district in Amsterdam."

She said she wanted to see the rest of the UK follow the example of Northern Ireland, the only part of the country where it is illegal to purchase sex.

"It's high time a new law was introduced at Westminster and at the Scottish Parliament to bring Great Britain into line with Northern Ireland so the purchase of sex is criminalised in every part of the UK," she said.