Is Amsterdam Nearing the end of Its Infamous Red Light District?

Amsterdam has been long known for its relaxed stance on both cannabis and prostitution. Since the cities earliest days, residents have been legally protected to do as they please with their bodies, many of whom turn to the city’s red light district to sell sexual favors. 

However, with sightseers and foreigners continuously flooding the district for tours of what some call “naughty Disneyland,” the women in the windows are beginning to feel a heightened sense of danger surrounding their occupation. With most of these sex workers attracting business via live window displays, they are unfortunately succumb to harassment from any passer-byers, whether that be by mocking them, taking photos without consent, or even spitting at windows. 

This issue has not gone unnoticed, though, as Amsterdam’s first woman mayor, Femke Halsema, has proposed significant changes to the street’s that make up the red light district. Based on the increasing number of tourists and rise in human trafficking, Halsema has pitched an area overhaul that includes the banning of sex workers from window displays, reducing the number of city-center brothers, and increasing licensing for window workers. 

With the understanding that complete illegality can make women extra vulnerable, Halsema believes new regulations could improve the laws that already give them the chance to be autonomously independent. “We’re forced by circumstances because Amsterdam changes,” she said to Travel + Leisure. “I think a lot of the women who work there feel humiliated, laughed at—and that’s one of the reasons we are thinking about changing.”

However, according to The Guardian, Halsema’s ideas are not being backed by everyone. Opposers to the mayor’s perspective include Cor van Dijk, chairman of a group that represents red light district businesses, who noted that the previous closing of windows has only compressed tourist into a smaller area. Additionally, some sex workers worry that the closing of windows will force them to take their business underground, which could lead to increased danger and less business.

A solution will be voted on in the city council later this year after Halsema’s pitches are narrowed during town hall meetings. Until then, the red light district will remain open with tours only available during the day and early evening.

Emerald contributor since June 2019


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