Red Lights Out in Amsterdam?

The Netherlands is famous for such things as wooden shoes, windmills, and cheese. Of course my humble little country is also famous for less innocent things such as its soft policy on soft drugs (weed). Although growing and selling weed isn’t officially legal, it is condoned. This means that wherever you go, you can see someone smoking a “sticky,” as we call it.


Aside from drugs, the Netherlands is also well-known for a particular area in Amsterdam: the Red Light District. (As it happens, other cities such as Groningen, Rotterdam, Leeuwarden and the Hague have similar districts, albeit on a smaller scale.)

The Red Light District is a neighborhood in Amsterdam where women sit, barely dressed, behind windows, while trying to persuade passersby to come inside to have some good ol’ fun. Most of these women are from Eastern Europe, and, contrary to prejudice, beautiful. They wear incredibly revealing clothes; their beautiful, long legs are spread out as if they want to welcome you… OK, sorry about that, what I mean to say is: it’s the prostitute district.

Sadly for those of us who like to look at beautiful women – and even sadder for those who actually want to use their services – Amsterdam has decided to clean up the neighborhood. This week, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen said that prostitution and drugs shouldn’t be made illegal, but that he nonetheless wants to shut down the “shops” where prostitutes are sitting behind windows. This, of course, is exactly what made the Red Light District so famous.

The reason for the decision to clean up the city is that the approach taken back in 2000 isn’t working. Back then the city (and government) decided to legalize prostitution. They hoped that this would improve the conditions under which prostitutes worked and that criminals would make less money off these women.


Sadly, the plan didn’t quite work out so well.

Cohen himself explains: “We want in part to reverse it, especially with regard to the exploitation of women in the sex industry.” He added that “[w]e have seen in the last years that women trafficking has been becoming more [prevalent], so in this respect the legalizing of the prostitution didn’t work out.”

The city hopes that the new approach, which “involves reselling buildings in the area to large commercial developers and cracking down on pimps and petty crime” will reduce crime and result in Amsterdam being a cleaner, richer, and more peaceful city.

“The city will force escort services and ‘security’ firms for prostitutes, which usually are not registered businesses, to obtain a license, a fixed address and telephone line, and subject them to financial auditing,” Cohen told reporters.

Such a move would result in a decrease in sex tourism, however, which means that the city will earn less money, at least in the short run. As a result, some citizens oppose the plans. Prostitute unions (yes, they’ve got their own unions down here) are especially unhappy.

Red Thread (one such union) spokeswoman, Metje Blaak, told the AFP, that “[s]ome 200 jobs are threatened.” She went on to say: “The situation will not get better for the women.”


Sadly for Mrs. Blaak, cracking down on prostitution won’t make life as such more difficult for the prostitutes themselves, but for their pimps and other criminals who get rich by exploiting these women.

What’s more, most sex tourists are – in the words of city councilman Lodewijk Asscher – “rowdy Britons.” Obviously these Britons aren’t “always the tourists that you’d like to have in the city,” as Mr. Asscher quite accurately put it.

One wonders how much we lose by losing Britons who can’t zip their own pants – because they’re drunk – after they visit one of Amsterdam’s prostitutes.

As such, the plan makes sense. A lot of sense even.

On the other hand, red is my second favorite color. I’ll miss those red lights.

And the women.

But other cities aren’t following in Amsterdam’s footsteps. This means that sex tourists can come to one of the other cities mentioned in this article if their wives aren’t enough for them and if they are willing to spend money to have sex with a woman who had sex with approximately 500 other men.

In the end, no matter what the government does, the oldest profession will never disappear. We can push it back into the shadows, and we can limit the damage it does – directly and indirectly – to society, but we will never succeed in completely erasing it from our cities.


Michael van der Gali√´n is the founder and editor-in-chief of PoliGazette and Chief Political Reviewer at Monsters and Critics.He can be contacted at [email protected]


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