Window brothel operators almost got completely buried by the new Red Light District rules and regulations implemented by the city of Amsterdam. “We had to inspect if the ladies were washing their sex-toys with the right disinfectant and if the perishable date of their condoms wasn’t lapsed. It drove us crazy”. The entrepreneurs went to court and the judge agreed with them. The detailed interference by the city of Amsterdam in the local sex industry went too far, ruled three (female) judges, and hurts the interests of sex workers.
Monique rents out three windows in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. “Always to women that I know really well, self-employed.” Monique wasn’t allowed to leave the neighbourhood if the ladies were working according to the strict regulations. “I had to be on the scene within 12 minutes” she states. “Visiting my old mom in Amsterdam Noord (North) or visiting a physiotherapist in between was out of the question. Even a quick run to the supermarket for some groceries had me stressing, terrified that I would break the Red Light District rules and lose my permit.” Only in court did it become clear that the 12-minute-rule was implemented to make sure that the window brothel operators were reachable, at all times, by municipality surveillants and police who walk around the neighbourhood. “Well, according to the court that is also possible via mobile phone” states Monique. “That rule has now been removed, and I thankfully have my freedom of movement back again.”
The Red Light District is – together with the Rijks- and Van Gogh Museum – one of the most important tourist attractions of the city. This makes the area a significant economic factor. Still, the municipality would like to see a Red Light District with a more international city like grandeur. At this time the sex industry and fast food diners dominate the Red Light District. To tune this lopsided and “uncultured” image, the government decided to drastically reduce the number of window brothels. The newly made available spaces would lend themselves for restaurants, fashion stores and nice shops. These changes would in turn revamp the entire district and all of its members to higher level, even chic. But the dreamed of new economic order in the Red Light District ran into a though reality.
Lodewijk Asscher, former deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, used to be an eager alderman in Amsterdam. One of his statements was that beneath every stone that you lift in the Red Light District you’ll find vermin. According to him the sex industry in Amsterdam parasitised off of ruthless human trafficking. He announced an offensive against the sector. Whoever was caught in illegal, misogynistic activities, would lose his or her brothel license, after which the government would turn off the red lights behind the windows and would take over the real-estate for pennies on the dollar and make something nice out of it. 10 years later only one conclusion can be drawn. The Asscher-plan, also known as Project 1012, has turned out to be an unsatisfactory – and costly – failure. The government hasn’t been able to close down a single window brothel based on human trafficking. The reduction in the number of window brothels has only been achieved by buying out sex-entrepreneurs, like Charles Geerts, who received the mother lode for their real estate. It cost the city of Amsterdam 10’s of millions of euros.
The high priced window brothel real estate that was bought up didn’t turn into high-end restaurants, fashion stores or shops that would lift up the entire neighbourhood. To somewhat limit the financial losses Amsterdam decided to rent out the dismantled brothels to a smart entrepreneur who made a, prostitution museum out of it, complete with red window lights. Earlier this year Amsterdam sold four former window brothel buildings to My Red Light, an independent collective of self-employed sex workers who now exploit 14 window brothels. In short: business as usual. The project is partly financed by the Rabobank, the same Rabobank that cut off all financial connections for Red Light District entrepreneurs because they were operating in the “immoral” sex industry.
Amsterdam Is justifiably worried about human trafficking and forced prostitution. However, those practices appear to not be happening inside the Red Light District but outside, in illegal sex clubs, escort services and private houses, where there isn’t any form of regulated oversight. Still, Red Light District entrepreneurs feel like the government is putting all the problems on their plate.
“I was forced to do intake conversations with the women who wanted to rent a window brothel from me” states Monique. “I had to ask the ladies deeply probing questions and had to find out if they were sufficiently self-reliant, and if they weren’t forced to sit behind a window by some guy. I had to write it all down in reports that had to be accessible for municipality inspectors at all times. But I was never trained for this kind of work. I just rent out window brothels to independent entrepreneurs, people who can take care of themselves.
The judge agrees with her. “Window brothel operators aren’t trained to recognise the signs of exploitation and human trafficking,” reads the verdict from start of August 2017. Further more, the recording of private information about sex workers in reports at the behest of the government is a violation of Dutch privacy laws. The municipality of Amsterdam isn’t sure whether it will appeal the verdict on the Red Light District rules.
This article was originally posted in Dutch by Brandpunt, a Dutch news program.