Amsterdam reveals plans to change face of red-light district

Prostitution permit plan aimed at allowing women to work anonymously in safer areas

Amsterdam’s mayor is planning to issue sex worker permits for locations outside the city’s historic centre in an attempt to encourage women working from behind windows in the De Wallen red-light district to move out of the area.

Femke Halsema, the Dutch capital’s first female mayor, will launch a fresh push to change the face of the streets around the city’s docks next year, after the failure of a series of attempts to clean up the red-light district and make life tolerable for the women working there.

Women working in the area are increasingly unable to make a living, and are instead subjected to gawping and abuse from tourists, according to councillors from the GroenLinks, D66 and Socialist party, three of the parties in the city’s governing coalition.

The fourth governing party, the Dutch Labour party, has said it would prefer to continue a policy devised in 2014 to buy out the windows over a period of time, but has not ruled out giving its support.

Alexander Hammelburg, a councillor for the liberal D66 party, told the Het Parool newspaper that women would be able to “work in anonymity, freed from tourists who constantly take pictures” in the proposed locations. “The De Wallen is simply no longer the ideal place,” Hammelburg said.

The GroenLinks council member Femke Roosma said: “Think of a kind of hotel with rooms, equipped with an alarm button, a safe for the money and cameras outside.”

Nicole Temmink, a councillor for the Socialist party, said that the area’s history should not stand in the way of progress. “The fact that prostitution is concentrated in the red-light district is not an argument to leave it that way: if you find it too busy, or if you hear that those women do not like it any more, you should not ignore a discussion about an alternative. Is this how you want to attract people to your city?”

Increasingly, sex workers are finding work via the internet, and the windows in the De Wallen are being left empty, the councillors said.

Halsema, a member of the Groenlinks party, has already called for the red-light district to be closed intermittently to clean the streets of waste. Under a “code red”, when it is deemed that there are too many people on the streets, council workers would point tourists in the direction of less busy parts of the city.

She is also demanding an increased police presence and new powers to give tourists on-the-spot fines.

This year Amsterdam’s ombudsman, Arre Zuurmond, criticised city officials for their slow response to managing the crowds.

Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000 and sex workers are expected to pay taxes. Owners of sex businesses must obtain a licence and adhere to municipal rules. But Amsterdam has continued to attract human traffickers and criminal gangs forcing women from eastern Europe into prostitution.


Daniel Boffey

The GuardianTramp

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