Questions about the Sex Trade in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s brothels and cannabis cafés furious over mayor’s ‘clean-up’ | World news | The Observer.

Red Light District in Amsterdam
Red Light District in Amsterdam

I’ve been accused of naiveté regarding the sex industry. I’ve had a hard time imagining that some women freely choose to become prostitutes. I’ve always assumed that they had few other options, that someone hurt them when they were young, or that they were supporting a drug habit, or that they were somehow forced into it. Now, after lengthy debate I am prepared to concede that some women do freely choose to enter the sex trade, but I still have questions. This article about the ‘clean-up’ in Amsterdam raises them again.

Here’s why. According to this article from the Guardian, the city of Amsterdam is concerned about the involvement of organized crime in the city’s sex and drug trades. Behind the facade of Amsterdam’s jovial party – city of sex, drugs and rock and roll image, is a sordid underbelly of “money laundering, extortion and human trafficking.” People who are making money in Amsterdam from prostitution and cannabis are furious about the ‘clean up’ and it’s no wonder. The top three most profitable industries in the world today are the arms trade, human trafficking and the drug trade. We’ve got two out of three here. The prostitutes’ union, De Rode Draad says that limiting the sex trade will cause the women to go out on the streets and into the hotels, compromising their health and safety.

So here’s my questions and I’d love someone to answer them.

1. How can anyone tell if the women in the windows are selling themselves or being sold by others?

2. Can prostitutes in Amsterdam refuse to have unsafe sex or sex acts they do not want to perform without suffering retribution?

3. Women who belong to the union receive health screenings, do the customers?

4. Am I correct in assuming that the members of De Rode Draad are women who have freely chosen to be prostitutes?

5. Does De Rode Draad look out for trafficked women and girls and try to assist them in any way?

I’m looking forward to some answers.

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6 thoughts on “Questions about the Sex Trade in Amsterdam”

  1. Hello.

    I ran across your blog through my daily prostitution/sex trade google alert. I am a graduate student in Women’s studies with a a focus specifically on issues of prostitution. I spent a few years living in Amsterdam working with women involved in prostitution on the streets, and living in the Red Light District. This ultimately led me to this degree, and will hopefully lead me back to Amsterdam. I do have a few answers to your questions, things that I learned from my years living in the middle of it all. My knowledge is definitely more on the streets and the make up/functioning of the red light district, not the de Rode Draad, so hopefully someone else can follow up with more answers about that.

    1. There is no clear cut way to tell if they are in the windows by choice– are selling themselves or being sold by others. The idea of choice in this is very tricky and a much greater discussion than I will delve into here. Some of my colleagues worked explicitly with women involved in prostitution behind the windows, and they could often tell who was coerced or when there were instances of trafficking, by the way the women chose to interact or not interact with them. IF they were being controlled by someone else, they were often hesitant to talk with my colleagues, or even accept a cup of coffee. Supposedly there are checks by the police to ensure that the women are legal and have their papers, thereby are not trafficked. But from what I understood while being there, that didn’t necessarily happen all that regularly.

    2. Women working in prostitution behind the windows can most definitely refuse any sex act they are not willing to perform, and if they, for whatever reason, feel uncomfortable with the customer that approaches the window, they can most definitely not let them in. The women can refuse service, but often men feel entitled to whatever they want, and violence is not that uncommon. The windows are all equipped with a security alarm, that the women can activate if something goes wrong and they feel they are in danger. The alarm is much like a 911 call…police, ambulance etc come immediately. There is also a system of security cameras throughout the red light district, which adds another level of security. All that being said, I heard violence coming from the windows, women screaming for help or that we should call the police from my back courtyard (open to the courtyards of a number of windows, and a brothel or two).

    3. I do believe the women receive health screenings, although as far as I know there is no system or set of regulations that ensures the customers have a clean bill of health.

    4. Really not sure of the answer to this one, but I would be inclined to say yes. It would seem to me those who are forced into working in prostitution would not have access or whatever to become members of prostitution.

    5. De Rode Draad does not work specifically with/for trafficked women that i know of. BUT, I do know that there are other organizations in Amsterdam and throughout the Netherlands that do. The Dutch Foundation against Trafficking (STV) and La Strada International are two I can think of off the top of my head. There are also a number of small, non governmental organizations on the ground that work closely with the women involved in window and street prostitution who keep a close eye out for signs of trafficked women. As well as an anonymous tip line that anyone can call if they know of, or are suspicious that one of the women working is/was trafficked: Salvation Army (Leger des Heils), The Scarlet Cord (Het Scharlaken Koord) and the Cleft to name a few.

    I hope some of this information helps answer your questions. Like i said, all the info I have is based mostly what I gleaned from living/working there for a few years. I’m sure there are people out there far more knowledgeable than me.

  2. Hi Rachel,
    Thanks so much for your answers to my questions. It is very helpful in my work at the UN to get information from people with actual experience on the ground.
    Best,
    Mary Ann

  3. Hi Mary Ann
    I am a woman who can answer your question for on e reasson. I have myself been prostitute. I can tell you it is NAIV to think anyone does it freely. Please, dont go for these stupid lies. If you doubt it…try yourself. Prostitution is the worst thing that can happen to human being to have men inside and they spit on you and bet you up, so many times, iven if you chose it freely noone deserves this kind of treatment, plese

  4. to the woman who wrote before “woman can refuse anytning they dont like to do” PLEASE DONT BE STIPID!!!
    Its about the money, do you need the money or not, you think you will say no., if you need the money, no you do it anayway, even you drink to support it

  5. Thank you for your comments.
    Your experience corroborates much of the research and the testimony about prostitution that I have heard here at the United Nations.
    What do you you think about the move in many countries to make paying for sex illegal? In these countries people who buy sex (mostly men) are penalized and the women and girls who have been prostituted are given assistance not punishment.

  6. “Sex trade” appears to be a voluntary choice, at least according to the facts. Did any of the people in dispute ever gain any earnings from their trade?

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