Sunday, February 24, 2008

Amsterdam Tries Upscale Fix for Red-Light District

The planned gentrification of the red-light district was not caused by a wave of prudishness, but to drive out criminal gangs that have encroached on the area.


Jourdan C. said...

Good for them! I think this will help balance the appeal of the Netherlands. Very few people visit it for the Van Gogh museum. Instead, what I think this will do is clean up the town where foreigners have destroyed it. In terms of what the Dutch are doing, I still agree with the legalities of prostitution. It would be best if the houses were still run by retired women. The pimps are the problem. One of Amsterdam's problems is that it kind of lives and dies by way of the tourist. The goal here is to class it up. They never really mentioned making prostitution illegal; they're just concerned with pimps and runaways, as they should be. Classiness is key for any immoral operation. I believe one must recognize that greater organized crime issues stretch far beyond Amsterdam. That is a global issue that results in Amsterdam being used as a plotting ground. Imagine if several places in the world had such laws; this small district would not then receive so much of the burden. Regulation is key. I mean, Brazil doesn’t have laws like this, yet it appears to have the same kinds of problems with cocaine. When any one location eases restrictions in a globally punishing environment, the bad guys will flock. I stand by my post from before and insist that regulation is the solution. I am sure gangs and sex traders have gone there because of its reputation, because things are not very well enforced. Hookers can’t be on, nor can one get high on the streets, but that doesn’t mean they have an efficient police force. I know Holland as a very friendly, kind place. This discussion of violence and gangs disturbs me. But total removal cannot be a solution. Instead, I see that as shouldering off your problems onto someone else. China, anyone? Hong Kong? The illegal sex trade will continue – that requires a multinational effort to curb it. I simply cannot see a reason to criminalize prostitution. Creepy men, perverted old men who haven’t touched women in ages – they are the rapists. If they do not get off via something other than their hand, then they will rape. Prostitution is a public service and I think straight girls should thank these window girls every time they feel safe walking alone. Men aren’t born rapists – they become pathetic and desperate. If they have some way to vent that frustration, then the violence will decrease. Again, this is a discussion of solutions, not moral standing. All I can say is, God bless the prostitutes.

Annah said...

This article reminds me of the first time I walked the streets of Amsterdam. What a strange experience. It was like watching mannequins in underwear come to life. You just don’t see live humans on window display, at least nowhere that I can remember have. I felt guilty staring but it’s very very hard not to stare.
I think these changes could do a world of good for the city. I think it would protect the prostitutes more than hurt them, which is a good thing. After getting over the initial shock of the plethora of legalized vices, one still notices a dark seediness to the city that probable isn’t good, reflecting the very things this article talks about. To inject the city with venues for local artists and photographers would be returning to the spirit that this city clearly thrives on.
It will be interesting to go back, say, five years from now.
Did you know that people with certain physical disabilities get a special stipend from the government designated for buying sex? Only in the Netherlands…

CrystalE. said...

Sure, I can see that The Netherlands wants to make the Red-Light District classier and more appealing... but look at what problems such transparent and open prostitution has caused. Human trafficking I think is one the most prevalent and important issues of this generation. It's modern day slavery- affecting men, women, and children! Most of the prositutes in Holland are foreigners. According to the Human Rights Watch, in all cases of their work in the field, coercive tactics, including deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threat and use of physical force, or debt bondage, are used to control women. Not all of the prostitutes are willing! The U.S. government estimates that approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. According to a U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, women and girls are trafficked to the Netherlands from Nigeria, Bulgaria, People's Republic of China (P.R.C.), Poland, and Romania for sexual exploitation. To a smaller extent, men are trafficked to the Netherlands from India, P.R.C., Bangladesh and Turkey for forced labor in ports, factories, restaurants, and as domestic workers.

Maybe the Netherlands should spend less time on the topical appeal of the district- and focus on the legititmacy and safety of the business, if one could even call it that. I don't think making it more upscale would deter the ridiculous amount of trafficking in the area- harsher regulations and more awareness/action concerning the issue would.

Policemen in Amsterdam's infamous red light district were quoted by Dutch media saying, "We are in the midst of modern slavery."

Bethany said...

While I applaud Amsterdam officials for trying to clean up the red-light district and make it safer, I wonder about the logistics of it. Groups of organized criminals are powerful and have a lot of resources, and I am curious to see how well these new regulations are enforced. I think the council is very wise to not try to outlaw prostitution. I just wonder if these new regulations will convince brothel owners to go underground. Will Amsterdam have to increase its police to regulate these changes? Who will be accountable for the extra monitoring? I do think the idea is a good and noble one that should be given a chance, but I am curious to see how it plays out.

This story reminded me of a debate going on here in Athens, Ohio. With the proposal for a strip club on Stimson Avenue (although that proposal is sill kind of shady), City Council has been discussing a possible ordinance for sexually oriented businesses that would place some pretty severe restrictions on construction. Some residents also worry that a strip club will decrease property values in the area. Although a strip club is far from a brothel and Amsterdam is more lenient than Athens, it’s interesting to see how a similar subject is treated in different parts of the world.

Andy Heger said...

I have never made it to Amsterdam,but anyone who I have spoken with usually classifies it by the red-light district and legalization and/or the more conventional and historical aspects of the city, like the Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums. I have gotten the impression that these two different views of the city somehow strangely compliment each other and I think that is what makes the city unique. Yet when one of the unique characteristics of the city is bringing in unwanted results that hinder the living conditions of teh city, it needs to be addressed. I found this article very interesting and relevant to issues that other parts of the world face: providing freedom, but limiting the dangers associated with it. The crime, thugs from other countries and human trafficking, etc. should be dealt with and I find that local officials are doing the right thing by trying to curtail it. I do agree with Bethany that the results may not be completely satisfactory because these underground organizations find a way to survive where money can be made and Amsterdam with its vice and tourism is such a place. They are trying to keep its independence by keeping prostitution, but sometimes you can't always get what you want. I look forward to keeping track of this development.

Amanda Teuscher said...

Amsterdam is so often hailed as a haven of freedom and forward-thinking. It is a destination for college students studying abroad in Europe, and it is also, apparently, a magnet for organized crime.

I find it very intriguing that the Dutch officials are so quick to claim that it is not prudishness on their part, as if they're afraid of losing what makes the city so popular with tourists. It is almost like they're gentrification proposals are economic in nature. And I think this only illustrates further how prostitution and similar practices have become businesses in Amsterdam. And the unregulated market of prostitutes has led to an influx of other businesses, which often involve the more questionable and controversial issues of sex trafficking and organized crime.

The issue of prostitution, especially in the Netherlands, has always been a strange one to me. On the one hand, I am very fond of the idea of individual rights and sexual freedom. We should be allowed to do what we wish with our own bodies. But when I read stories like this, I am reminded of the very real negative consequences it can have on gender relations and freedom. It cannot be argued that the vast majority of prostitutes are women, and it is clear from this article that a growing number of those who are running the businesses are men.

Without getting too lost in feminist theory, I will say that I find this pattern rather disturbing and indicative of some very unfair power dynamics between genders. In the article, Marlise Simons quotes the campaign project manager as saying something quite telling about the objectification of these women and their powerlessness: "The butcher ran a few brothel rooms on the side; he was selling cold meat and warm flesh at the same time." I found this statement quite jolting. And the entire story gives the sense that these women are nothing more than commodities and products like any other. And too often, they are coerced into these lifestyles, or choose them because they feel they have little choice.

For this reason, I have to say that I think the Amsterdam officials' efforts are a step in the right direction, in curtailing the growing number of illegal practices and trafficking of women as sex slaves. But beautification of sidewalks and the additions of designer storefronts will only do so much. Cracking down on the organized crime and underhanded dealings is very important as well.

Tina* said...

In my opinion, to reorganize Amsterdam's red-light district and to give the area a more artistic appeal is a nice way in order to get rid of a stained image of the place and open it up to a more couth clientele. I doubt it, however, that stronger regulations can reduce organized crime, since this is how some others already have pointed out not just a district or city problem. Organized crime is a worldwide network.

I found an interesting article (from Jan 1, 2008) in relation to Amsterdam's red-light district on Since it is in German, I'll just outline the major points of the story.

In contrast to the NYT article, this story argued that there are more and more female pimps in Amsterdam's red-light district. Many of them came from Nigeria and also worked as prostitutes before. They are called "Hoeren Madams" and according to Dina Siegel, a criminologist at VU University, Amsterdam, those Nigerian women are often the heads of criminal organizations.
Usually married to Dutch men to stay in the country legally, the "Hoeren Madams" with an average age of 45 force young Nigerian women into prostitution with the help of voodoo rituals. The young girls would be make believe that they are bewitched or cursed by a bad spell if they don't obey the "Hoeren Madams."
The information is based on a study by Dina Siegel of the VU University in Amsterdam. The study describes the case of a girl that made that experience.

In case someone of you knows a little bit German and wants to read the story, go to:

Tina* said...

sorry, the link was not displayed correctly before. Here we go again:

Heather said...

I don’t blame Amsterdam for wanting to cut the violence that’s increasing in the Red Light District. However, I wonder if an effect of the cleansing of the Red Light District would be migration of sex trade to another section of Amsterdam. In the article, an official said that the cleanup does not mean they are making protestation illegal, which means that the sex trade is free to continue, just not in the Red Light District. Since no other laws right now are being passed or created to deal with the greater issue of violence and organized crime, I feel the cleansing of the district does not target the main issue.

I feel that other laws should be passed to help protect the prostitutes from violent pimps if the Netherlands is going to continue to have a legal sex trade. In Brazil, there is a prostitute’s union, which promotes sex education and HIV/AIDs testing for its members. The associate unites 30 prostitutes’ associations and has 20,000 members and was created after prostitutes were violently abused by police officers because of their choice of work. The organization is now campaigning for equal rights and legalization of prostitution. I feel a prostitute’s union or something similar to the Brazilian prostitution organization would be beneficial in the Netherlands. Also tighter law enforcement over areas known for sex trade would be helpful in cleaning up the city. Perhaps tighter immigration control would decrease human trafficking.

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