The curtains are set to close on Amsterdam’s famous red light windows, where millions of tourists wander by to gawp at prostitutes in red-lit windows but increasingly do not pay for their services.
Femke Halsema, Amsterdam’s first female mayor, has outlined four scenarios for the future of the 330 windows – and none of them includes business as normal.
The proposals follow a series of interviews in which she has decried “the humiliation of women by large groups of tourists” as “unacceptable” and pledged to make fundamental changes.
The first is simple: closing the curtains of the window brothels so that sex workers are no longer visible from the street – and their number remains the same or decreases.
The second is to close a proportion of the windows in the city centre, and relocate brothels elsewhere, potentially in a sex work hotel.
A third, previously floated in public, is to close all windows in the historic area of De Wallen and around the Singel canal, and move these “workplaces” to a different location or sex work hotel.
The fourth option is to create even more window brothels or workplaces in the current area – although it is unclear how this would meet the aim of protecting the dignity of sex workers, and commentators believe it is highly unlikely to pass.
“The traditional, licensed form of sex work in parts of the city centre is under pressure due to the growing number of visitors to Amsterdam,” said Ms Halsema.
“For many visitors, the sex workers have become no more than an attraction to look at. In some cases this is accompanied by disruptive behaviour and a disrespectful attitude…At the same time, there has also been a major increase in unlicensed, invisible prostitution.”
The city has raised concerns about human trafficking, money laundering and fraud, as well as controlling nuisance for residents and ensuring “visitors behave appropriately.”
This month, the mayor will hold meetings with residents, businesses and sex workers and in September the proposals will be discussed by the city council, lawyers and the finance team.
Lyle Muns, spokesman for My Red Light, a brothel collective run by sex workers and initiative of the late mayor Eberhard van der Laan, stressed that sex workers need to have a central role in the discussions.
“Shutting workplaces without a good alternative would be very bad for sex workers,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “But I am pleased that they are looking at new workplaces outside De Wallen, the so-called prostitution hotels.”
Bert Nap, a resident of the red light district who has campaigned for change, said that voluntary policies have not worked.
“Now we need a strong city government that dares to make strong policy,” he said. “Residents have called for this for a long time, and I believe they will be moved entirely from the city centre. A lot has changed in the world: you can order everything via the internet, and prostitution is no different.”
He added, though, that the city still needed to ensure vacant red light windows were not filled with night spots drawing marauding tourists.
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“People come with the idea that anything goes in Amsterdam, and you have to stop that. The cause is overtourism, and the sort of tourism, not the prostitution.”