Tuesday 21 September 2021

Halsema: ‘Tourists are the problem in the red light district, not prostitutes’

Photo: Depositphotos.com

Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema has pledged to take drastic steps to reduce the pressure of tourism in the red light district and stop sex workers being harassed by hordes of visitors.

The mayor said the city had created a ‘many-headed monster’ in the Wallen district by not tackling the growing problems caused by noisy, drunken stag parties and guided tour groups.

‘The nuisance isn’t caused by sex workers themselves. They’ve become a tourist attraction that draws large numbers of people who come to take selfies there,’ she told Nieuwsuur. It’s demeaning to the people who work there and that can’t be supported.’

The online sex trade has also made it harder to control illegal and unlicensed prostitution in the city, Halsema added.

Earlier this year Amsterdam banned all organised tours from the Wallen as of January 1 next year after the city’s ombudsman described the area as an ‘urban jungle‘.

Four options

Halsema proposed four options to tackle the problem. The first would be to close the curtains in licensed brothels and make them less attractive to as a tourists, though that would also impinge on sex workers’ ability to advertise their services.

A second option would be to close all the brothels in the Wallen and move the red light district away from the city centre. However, sex workers have already voiced concern about this plan because it could impact on their safety.

Alternatively, some of the window brothels could be relocated so the sex trade is not concentrated in one area of the city, or the number could be increased to reduce the pressure on individual sex workers.

‘Part of Amsterdam’

‘It’s not my intention to drive prostitution out of the city,’ said Halsema. ‘I’m too much of a pragmatist for that. Prostitution is part of Amsterdam: there is a market for it, there is demand, and that’s why we’re keeping it.’

Sex workers interviewed by Nieuwsuur were critical of the plans. ‘How are you going to get customers if the curtains are closed?’ asked the anonymous chair of the sex workers’ organisation Red Light United.

‘We carried out research among 170 sex workers in the red light district and 93% do not agree with moving it to a different area. We don’t want to move away because we don’t want to lose our customers.’

Halsema said she wanted to start a dialogue about the problem of tourism that went across party lines and was open to further suggestions. She has also appointed an envoy to go into the area and include the views of sex workers in the discussion.

‘Almost all the women in the Wallen are foreign and you hardly ever hear from them,’ the mayor said.

‘I am not speaking on behalf of [my party] GroenLinks but as mayor of Amsterdam. If people are being trafficked, recruited or exploited, all Dutch people should be concerned about it. The debate is often conducted on moral lines; I’m hoping to appeal to people who want to look for practical solutions.’

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