To the beat of drums, 150 sex workers and supporters marched on Amsterdam’s city hall on Thursday in protest at changes to the red light district regulations.
Many wearing masks and chanting ‘no earlier closing times, no erotic centre’, the protesters took a loop from the red light district around city hall, where they were barred from entry by anxious-looking security guards.
They were protesting at plans to close the 249 window brothels in the city centre at 3am instead of 6am from this weekend, and Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema’s longer term vision to create an erotic centre elsewhere to replace 100 of them.
Halsema talked to some of the protesters briefly at the door of the building, promising to meet with them and hear their concerns, and saying that the ‘sex workers were not the problem.’
The city council is rolling out measures to make the city centre more liveable and reduce tourist and criminal nuisance, including banning cannabis smoking in public from mid-May, reducing the sale of alcohol and bar opening hours, dissuading pub crawls and rowdy Brits, and a controversial proposal to relocate some of the brothel windows.
Alessia, a young woman wearing a mask who said she was a sex worker, said the city had the wrong target. ‘The problem isn’t the tourists: it’s the dealers,’ she told Dutch News. ‘Five years ago there were more police on the street, but there aren’t now.’
Thijs Weijland, not a sex worker but an employee for a brothel in the red light district, said: ‘They are always talking about sex workers but not with them. I don’t know a single sex worker who says the erotic centre is a good idea. We must not make them the victims of politics.’
Elena, another woman in a mask, said she was there supporting her friends. ‘My friends don’t feel safe and I don’t see why they have to change,’ she said. ‘I live in the neighbourhood and it is safe.’
Sex workers are the latest group up in arms about the city’s plans for change in the ages-old brothel industry where – mostly – women stand semi-clad in red-curtained windows and potential clients walk by. Halsema and other councillors protest that they are subject to ‘denigrating’ behaviour from tourists who look do not buy, which also affects the area.
This week at two meetings in Amsterdam Zuid and Amsterdam Noord, where the city is investigating three potential locations for a privately-built erotic centre on city land, Halsema defended her proposals to many concerned locals. Eksteen de Waal, who lives opposite a proposed location near the Amsterdam RAI, and has set up the ‘no sex centre’ website, told Dutch News: ‘People feel they are not listening: we feel unheard.’
Cynthia Cournuejouls, a resident in Zuid who has created a petition against the erotic centre and spoke at the council this week, said the proximity of a major secondary school and parkland nearby were risk factors. ‘There could be several smaller brothels spaced out in the city, or a cruise boat at the passenger terminal,’ she said. ‘The RAI is not built for such a big surplus of people.’
At the meeting in Noord, however, Halsema stoutly defended herself from personal abuse, said the situation in the red light district was currently ‘unsafe’ and that ‘nuisance is connected with De Wallen, not with sex work.’
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