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September 25, 2007 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Amsterdam: a deal has been made that will shut down a third of the prostitute windows in the city's famed red light district [nsfw] and turn the buildings into shops or housing. Advocacy group De Rode Draad (The Red Thread) worries that a shortage of windows will push prostitutes away from the safe, monitored areas. [via QI]

Property magnate Charlie Geerts, known as Amsterdam's Emperor of Sex, gave up a year-long battle with the authorities and sold up (for £18m).

Beeb:
"The mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, said that although prostitution was legal in the Netherlands, there was too much of the sex trade in the city centre.

He also said that the trade involved exploitation and trafficking of women, and other kinds of criminal activity. "
posted by chuckdarwin (45 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is bad news for seedy British men planning sex holidays.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:14 AM on September 25, 2007


They will just have to upgrade to Vista.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:18 AM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Lets start an advocacy group for prostitutes here in Amsterdam and call ourselves "The Tampon".
posted by phaedon at 7:21 AM on September 25, 2007


Since you tourists always seem to find our red light districts so interesting: Prostitution in my home town Utrecht is even more picturesquely Dutch. The prostitutes sit in their red light windows in house boats.

This being the Netherlands the biking path right next to it has been totally separated from the road that is exclusively designated for prostitution car traffic. Apparently the car drivers did not have their eyes on the road and endangered the cyclists before.
posted by jouke at 7:30 AM on September 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


Advocacy group De Rode Draad (The Red Thread) worries that a shortage of windows will push prostitutes away from the safe, monitored areas.

I would listen to what DRD says. It's not like they don't know about exploitation and trafficking. However, they deal in reality not in sensationalization (nor moral sentiment, which is really where this is coming from). I know Amsterdam only middling-well (having done an exchange in The Netherlands) but the area and number of windows isn't terribly big to begin with, and I certainly wouldn't want to see women being pushed to the outskirts where things get decidedly more dodgy.

on preview: ah, jouke. I wondered if you would see this thread. Where do you sit on this change?
posted by dreamsign at 7:32 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I say send them here to D.C. and we'll open a day laborers center for them.
posted by doctorschlock at 7:43 AM on September 25, 2007


A good percentage of the people touring the red light district and entering the sex shops are groups of giggling middle aged ladies.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:44 AM on September 25, 2007


(I'm no expert on the Amsterdam or Dutch prostitution situation.)
According to newspapers the prostitution legalisation laws of 2000 failed to ameliorate the situation of women. When you have legal prostitution it's very hard to ignore signs of trade in women. Of course they should do something about that, but I'm not sure what can be done.
Also police has been cracking down on financial connections between the criminal world and the legal economy. That was another reason to revoke licenses of brothels.

I think the Amsterdam community can decrease the size it wants to assign of the most inner centre of the city to prostitution if it values other uses more highly. That doesn't mean prostitution will become illegal again or that the whole of the Red Light District will be eradicated.

Generally red light districts in the Netherlands are pretty much NIMBY subjects so they get to be shifted here and there by local law makers now and again.
posted by jouke at 7:48 AM on September 25, 2007


jouke - I can totally relate. I support the idea of legal prostitution and find Netherland's take on this issue to be progressive and realistic (i.e. you cannot stop it)... but I wouldn't want my kids to have to live / attend school near a red light district.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:57 AM on September 25, 2007


I'm moving to Amsterdam to quit hookers and hash.
posted by foot at 7:57 AM on September 25, 2007


Btw the local politician (wethouder) describes the tourists that the wallen attract as Male Vertical Drinkers from Britain.
I did not know that expression. Apparently these are people standing around in the street drinking from bottles that they take along.
I can imagine that that's not a group of tourists that the County Amsterdam particularly wants to nurture and grow.
posted by jouke at 7:58 AM on September 25, 2007


...the local politician (wethouder) describes the tourists that the wallen attract as Male Vertical Drinkers from Britain.

Their drinks aren't the only things that are vertical.

(thanks, I'm here all week)
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:01 AM on September 25, 2007


but I wouldn't want my kids to have to live / attend school near a red light district.

Yet during the day, you wouldn't recognize it if you didn't know what to look for. Busy shoppers, people strolling with kids.
posted by dreamsign at 8:01 AM on September 25, 2007


Actually chuck I always knew where the red light district in Arnhem, where I grew up, was. I don't think there's any danger to kids from these places. As a child I knew it was a seedy place and I staid away. No big deal.

A colleague of mine told me how he was strolling through Utrecht with his family. There's one small stray red light street in the centre and they walked past it. One of his little girls was intrigued "Look mummy, these women are not cold at all; they hardly wear any clothes".
posted by jouke at 8:03 AM on September 25, 2007


One of the best sports in Amsterdam is to sit in a coffee shop in the red light area watching the different ways different customers re-enter traffic on busy streets. They vary from collars up and head down to hide the face to strutting out, high-fiving a mate who goes in next.

This never fails to entertain me.
posted by vbfg at 8:09 AM on September 25, 2007


Btw the local politician (wethouder) describes the tourists that the wallen attract as Male Vertical Drinkers from Britain.

Vertical Drinking refers to a phenomenon usually encountered in pubs in the UK (such as god-awful chain pubs like Wetherspoons) that are so crowded and vast that there are no places to sit and, therefore, you stand drinking. And because there is nowhere to sit the drink, people tend to drink more quickly and get pissed more quickly. And go for Chips and Cheese more quickly. And fight in the taxi queue more often.

Most people with any sense avoid these pubs as much as they can. They are devoid of atmosphere (other than that of people getting pished) and are basically McDonalds as a pub.

I can imagine that that's not a group of tourists that the County Amsterdam particularly wants to nurture and grow.


Be careful what you wish for. I know that Dublin and Prague have, at various times, attempted to get rid of the stag night/pissed Brits parties only to find that these people often spend a lot more money than your nice couple on a cultured weekend break. Hotels, restaurants etc. don't fare as well when they are gone. I believe Dublin even tried to get stag parties to come back after realising the loss to the economy when they were barred from all the boozers in Temple Bar.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:16 AM on September 25, 2007


I absolutely like the prostitution threads :

1. the subject never fails to be remotely and/or briefly interesting

2. the stances of people could be so many: the happy customer, the "flaccid" moralizer, the concerned for childrens but fuck adults, the not-in-my-backyard but yours is just fine , the economists expert in all money that admire the pimp model yet fail to see its defects, the guy would would be a gentle/brutal pimp, the girl/guy who would like to be a prostitute for a day, the out of sight out of mind.

Yet I already miss the idea, just the idea of being able to hop on a plane and go see the forbidden fruit of commercialized sex, if only to realize there are sad and pathetic aspects to it, but also lustful and libertaing opportunities for the sexually insecure. While one could see the prostitute-window as some sort of mcdonald of compulsion and outlet of problem, it still doesn't look like a brothel to me, in which the boss just assigns X to Y in a room for n minutes at $ rate and you better hurry...that saddens me, as opposed to the maybe slightly romantic view of the psycologist-prostitute-professional, running her/his own business, even if paying an hefty rent to a stupid rentier.
posted by elpapacito at 8:39 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yet during the day, you wouldn't recognize it if you didn't know what to look for.

I dunno about that - when I was in Amsterdam, on a Sunday afternoon I was walking to the Amstelkring museum, which is in the middle of the district. Walking through an alley along the side of the Oude Kerk, there was a row of prostitute windows open for business. I wasn't surprised they were open, only that they existed right there next door to the old church.

Anyway, I'm just saying that my brief experience suggests the place doesn't necessarily close up shop during the day and say hidden until dark.
posted by dnash at 9:01 AM on September 25, 2007


There are only a couple of alleys like that, dnash, and that church is, well, central to the area. That anomaly is pretty much the first thing you have to get past. You didn't mention any of the front streets, unsurprisingly, since the only thing telling about them is the occasional neon club sign, unlit. The windowed buildings look like regular canal houses.
posted by dreamsign at 9:22 AM on September 25, 2007


Meanwhile, John Irving is cursing up a storm and pouring himself a series of stiff drinks.
posted by cmyk at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2007


Basic economics suggests an increase in competition for the lucrative window positions will increase quality and reduce cost.
posted by ogre at 9:32 AM on September 25, 2007


but I wouldn't want my kids to have to live / attend school near a red light district

They'd be better off living/attending school near a legal red light district, so potential customers know exactly who it is that's selling sex, rather than our current mish-mash, whereby kerb crawlers and street prostitutes have to dodge the law, and all manner of non-participants end up getting buttonholed and asked if they want/will give a blow job.

In Liverpool, we've had at least 13 prostitutes murdered over the last twenty years or so. Their trade and their marginality makes them a target for lunatics of all different kinds, from the religious maniac to the sex sadist, and the only attempt that we make at protecting them is to threaten to arrest them if they ply their trade on the streets. This has the impact of pushing them out from the well lit, well policed, well populated centre of town, out to the quieter, darker margins where they can get picked off as and when necessary.

A recent attempt to create a 'tolerance zone', a non-residential area where these women could work in relative safety was mooted, and almost looked like it was about to happen, but then New Labour appointed a new Home Office minister with responsibility for this area -- Baroness Scotland, IIRC, and she was your archetypal rabid dogmatic feminist who believes that a simple wave of the wand and all these women will up and join the sisterhood, so the tolerance zone was dropped.

We've had at least one one other murder in the city since then, and God knows how many kidnappings, rapes, beatings, etc. And that's just in one city. God knows how often this happens across the rest of the UK. Even in a town like Edinburgh, where you've got an informal tolerance zone, what the police tolerate is women working out of massage parlours and brothels, but the problem is that these are the women with the most resources -- women with drug and alcohol problems, the most vulnerable group, tend not to be able to get work in these places, so are still pushed into working on the streets, and putting themselves at risk on a daily basis.

The madness of it all is that creating a tolerance zone like this allows you to actually police it properly, so those women who have been captured and are being sold against their will can actually be interviewed in a neutral area away from the pimps who exploit and abuse them, creating far greater opportunities to rescue those who want to be rescued. You can also target your drug and alcohol treatment, mental health outreach, sexual health, etc. in these zones which make this 'hard to reach' group very easily reached.

The current policy here in the UK is completely insane and serves nobody at all.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:44 AM on September 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


The story of how Bradford's red light district moved from across town to outside my office window.
posted by vbfg at 9:56 AM on September 25, 2007


I had a couple beers and a smoke with a Brit girl who was set to start prostitution later that week, the one time I was in Amsterdam.

She'd just finished school for the year, and decided to move to Amsterdam with a couple of pals. She'd been there a week or two, had found a terrible flat where she was quasi-squatting, and had spent all the money she'd saved, and had no way back to England. She wasn't legal, so she couldn't get a regular job (though I've always figured that restaurant/dishwasher jobs were all off-the-books and open to illegals, perhaps an American delusion). So, she'd found a place that one of her neighbors was hooking at, and was preparing herself to go down and try it for a bit, just to get some money up.

It was an interesting discussion, because I'd always kind of wondered how these things happened, but it was also weird to see her thinking that she had no other choice. I can understand people going into the sex trade because you can make a lot of fast cash, but I have to admit that I like to think that a) there are gradiations, and b) thinking of it as a last resort seems a terminal lack of imagination.

She was vehement about not going into a union shop, though, which was weird. She said that her neighbor also swore them off, because the girls were required by law to have a pillow, and that was how prostitutes got smothered.
posted by klangklangston at 9:58 AM on September 25, 2007


There have been prostitutes stationed around that church for hundreds of years, that's not a recent thing. Ahh, Amsterdam, where else can I see hippies, businessmen, Japanese tourists, beautiful whores, endless bicycles, weed openly for sale, real Van Goghs and Vermeers, amazing flowers, excellent chocolate and diamonds, head sized pancakes, gorgeous 17th century architecture, horrific 1970's socialist architecture, and fresh Heinekin, ALL while being filmed by CCTV cameras... and it's not even noon yet!!!
posted by Area Control at 10:02 AM on September 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'd be more outraged if I wasn't so high.

As Kevin Nealon noted in the first season of "Weeds" when extolling the virtues of the medical marijuana clinics: "It's like going to Amsterdam, but better, because you don't have to go to the Anne Frank house and act all sad."
posted by Curry at 10:09 AM on September 25, 2007


I once stayed in a Christian hostel in Amsterdam that was right in the middle of the red light district. Very surreal experience --there'd be an evening meal with conversation about politics, art, travel, along with some light proselytizing.

Then I'd sit out on the stoop and watch the women in the windows, the johns coming out looking embarrassed but happy.

Ah, Amsterdam.
posted by aerotive at 11:05 AM on September 25, 2007


Meanwhile, John Irving is cursing up a storm and pouring himself a series of stiff drinks.

Did he write a book where the hookers were in Amsterdam? I thought they went in Vienna. You know, with the bears.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:05 AM on September 25, 2007


New Amsterdam, it's become much too much.
posted by blucevalo at 11:32 AM on September 25, 2007


I spent a few summers in Amsterdam, and while I never had any problems with the people who worked in the red light district, I had considerable issues with the people who patronized it. I would go significantly out of my way to avoid the patrons of the district.
posted by Peecabu at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2007


horrific 1970's socialist architecture

In Amsterdam? Must be out in the boondocks. Whenever I go, the only modern architecture I ever notice is the beautiful work of the Amsterdam School.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2007


Brit girl ... She wasn't legal [to work in the Netherlands]

Odd. EU citizens can work in any EU state on the same footing as natives, with the exception of recent darker-skinned and poorer accession states. One of the principles of the Common Market. There was some documentation required, I suppose, which she didn't have time to get?
posted by alasdair at 12:33 PM on September 25, 2007


This was in 2001, before the Euro was adopted, and before, I assume, current work rules were adopted.
posted by klangklangston at 12:55 PM on September 25, 2007


No, the free movement of workers is a relatively old thing. 1969 I think.
posted by snownoid at 1:04 PM on September 25, 2007


This was in 2001, before the Euro was adopted, and before, I assume, current work rules were adopted.
posted by klangklangston at 2:55 PM


(slight derail) Were you there for the A2A Music thing by chance? Just asking.

I spent a week there and went into the Red Light District twice. There was something vaguely comforting knowing that this is where the sinnin' happens and 'everywhere else' is where the other cool stuff is. God I loved that place.

And no Kevin Nealon, I didn't have to act all sad at the Anne Frank house. Just disgusted that it was turned into a Disney Tour where you were funneled into a gift shop at the end and couldn't take pictures.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:43 PM on September 25, 2007


"(slight derail) Were you there for the A2A Music thing by chance? Just asking."

No, though I wish I was. I was there in May 2001, back before 9/11 "changed everything," and found most of the cool stuff by, well, getting really lost. It kinda freaked my brother out, since we were supposed to meet up and instead I had headed way the fuck out to the west of the train station and finally found a great falafel place that served beer in a kinda skanky area (I had been looking for the art supply store, because for some reason I had gotten it into my head that Amsterdam was known for its art supplies or something).
posted by klangklangston at 3:11 PM on September 25, 2007


No, the free movement of workers is a relatively old thing. 1969 I think.

Britain didn't actually join the EU until 1973. Some states, such as Germany and France, still don't allow free movement of labour from the newer, ex-EU states, and won't until 2009 at the earliest.

But if she was British, she probably just couldn't be bothered to figure out the paperwork. They don't make it easy for you -- especially if you don't speak Dutch.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:40 PM on September 25, 2007


This was in 2001, before the Euro was adopted, and before, I assume, current work rules were adopted.

Nope. Current rules have been about the same at least since 1992. You do need a residence and work permit, but that's a mere formality for EU citizens. Maybe she didn't realise that, but then I must assume that she can't have been the sharpest tool in the drawer.

Of course, getting a legal job in Amsterdam is far from evident if you've just landed and you don't speak any Dutch. Not so much of a problem for prostitution though...

And also, plenty of people gravitating towards Amsterdam and squatting or "semi-squatting" there (never mind turning tricks) have serious addiction problems. If she had had any previous run-ins with Dutch law enforcement, getting a residence permit could indeed get complicated.
posted by Skeptic at 3:43 PM on September 25, 2007


There was something vaguely comforting knowing that this is where the sinnin' happens and 'everywhere else' is where the other cool stuff is.

Actually, this isn't strictly true. I'm pretty sure that the Red Light District is for sucker tourists. If you venture further out of the city, down to De Pijp in the Oude Suud (in the area where the Albert Kuyp Market), you find an area which has traditionally been a working class part of the city -- though I'm not sure if there is anything that counts as a working class area of Amsterdam in the centre any more. Anyway, if you wander into this part of the city, you'll also run into a much smaller red light district that seems to service the local community rather than the tourists. It's exactly the same sort of deal, women sitting in windows in their underwear, but you don't get many tourists wandering that far afield.

One of the best coffee shops in Amsterdam is out that way as well -- the original GreenHouse on TollStraat. So I'm pretty sure that the sinnin' is everywhere. It's just marketed less aggressively outside the tourist area.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Nope. Current rules have been about the same at least since 1992. You do need a residence and work permit, but that's a mere formality for EU citizens. Maybe she didn't realise that, but then I must assume that she can't have been the sharpest tool in the drawer."

Well, yeah. And I got the impression that it was something of a spur-of-the-moment decision on her part, like, her mates and her all went to Amsterdam for the summer, and once they got there, they decided to party themselves shitless and stay. Then, sometime later, the lack of planning began to show and she figured that turning tricks was the way to earn enough money for a ferry back. At least she bought me a beer in exchange for a quick charcoal sketch.
posted by klangklangston at 4:15 PM on September 25, 2007


As a born Amsterdammer, I fully support this action by the city government. I don't like the fact that whenever Amsterdam is mentioned, everybody immediately thinks of hookers and weed. It is a beautiful city that has much more to offer.

The red light district occupies the most ancient part of town (12th century), but it has lost the charm (tacky neon lights, forced prostitution, junkies) that it probably once had. Time to get rid of it I say.
posted by beno at 4:40 PM on September 25, 2007


You do need a residence and work permit, but that's a mere formality for EU citizens.

No, you don't need a residence permit, they changed that a couple of years ago. And even before that a work permit wasn't needed.
All these EU formalities are quite confusing and constantly changing.
posted by snownoid at 5:29 PM on September 25, 2007


"Despite everything, I still believe that people are really good as tarts."
posted by rob511 at 6:13 PM on September 25, 2007


As a born Amsterdammer, I fully support this action by the city government. I don't like the fact that whenever Amsterdam is mentioned, everybody immediately thinks of hookers and weed. It is a beautiful city that has much more to offer.

Damn straight it does. I get tired of getting askance looks when I proclaim my love for that city (I think it even lost me a job, when I stated that in interview). But the problem is not with you; it's with us. Amsterdam is the adult's table, where people drink wine and make with the adult talk. Much of the rest of the west is the kid's table, where far too much attention is spent on trying to sneak a beer. We just need to grow up and it won't be such a big deal.
posted by dreamsign at 7:43 PM on September 25, 2007


Did he write a book where the hookers were in Amsterdam? I thought they went in Vienna. You know, with the bears.

Two of his more recent ones involved Amsterdam. A Widow For One Year had a lot to do with the red-light district.
posted by cmyk at 7:43 AM on September 26, 2007


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