De Wallen is the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam and a major tourist attraction. It is located in the heart of the oldest part of Amsterdam, covering several blocks south of the church Oude Kerk and crossed by several canals. De Wallen is a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred tiny one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. The area also has a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, and a number of coffee shops that sell marijuana.
The total area is approximately 6500 square meters, limited by the Niezel in the north, the sea dike/Nieuwmarkt in the east, the Sint Jansstraat in the south and the Warmoesstraat in the west. Prostitution takes place within this area in the following streets: Barndesteeg, Bethlehemsteeg, Bloedstraat, Boomsteeg (now closed), Dollebegijnensteeg, Enge Kerksteeg, Goldbergersteeg, Gordijnensteeg, Molensteeg, Monnikenstraat, Oudekerksplein, Oudekennissteeg, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Sint Annendwarsstraat, Sint Annenstraat, Stoofsteeg and Trompettersteeg.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, with the exception of street prostitution; but work permits are not issued for prostitution, therefore legally working in the trade is limited mostly to EU citizens. (A non-EU citizen can work legally in Netherlands without a work permit in certain circumstances, for instance, if they are the spouse of a local citizen).
While health and social services are readily available, sex workers are not required to undergo regular health checks. Brothel owners and room operators often require health certificates before employing or leasing rooms
To counter negative publicity Mariska Majoor, founder of the Prostitution Information Center organized 2 "open days" in February 2006 and March 2007, allowing visitors access to some window brothels and peep shows and informing them about the working conditions there. Majoor was also instrumental in having the world's first monument to Sex workers installed in the red light district. The bronze statue was unveiled on the Oudekerksplein in front of the Oude Kerk at the open day in March 2007 and shows a woman standing in a doorway.
Pimping and human trafficking
Netherlands is listed by the UNODC as a primary country of destination for victims of human trafficking, and city authorities are very worried about Amsterdam's current situation: "We've realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs but that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities," said Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam.
The vast majority of the prostitutes from De Wallen are foreigners, as are their pimps and human traffickers. More than 75% of Amsterdam's prostitutes are from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, according to a former prostitute who produced a report about the sex trade.
Two anonymous vice officers of the Beurstraat police station who have worked in this area revealed in October 2005 that there are two main groups of human traffickers on de Wallen, the "loverboys" and a group known as "the Turks". The group of loverboys consist mostly of young Moroccan males who use romantic techniques to persuade young women to work for them as prostitutes. The Turkish group concentrates mainly on the trafficking in Eastern European prostitutes. An investigation into this group in early 2003 failed miserably: only a few arrests were made and the defendants were quickly released due to lack of evidence.
In 2004, the Amsterdam authorities ordered research into the nature and scale of pimping and human trafficking in Amsterdam. The Willem Plompe institution took up that job. The researchers, under the leadership of professor Frank Bovenkerk, found that women under the control of a pimp can be easily put to work in the legal brothels with the brothel owners being aware that the women are controlled by pimps. The general setup of window prostitution was said to be helpful to pimps, as it facilitates the direct control of the women by their pimp. The researchers spoke to the prostitutes and the women indicated it is nearly impossible for a prostitute to work independently and offer resistance to violent customers. Nearly all prostitutes work for a boyfriend, pimp or human trafficker. The researchers assume that, for Latin American and African prostitutes, men in their home countries play a big role in the background.
The researchers referred to a portfolio compiled by officers from the Beursstraat police station. It contains a list of 76 pimps with a violent criminal history who operated on de Wallen during the previous half year. Of those 76 pimps, five were foreigners and the rest were Dutch, of whom only three were Dutch natives. The researchers asked more than 20 random Dutch prostitutes how they entered prostitution. Many were introduced into prostitution by their (former) boyfriends through a love affair. Often these boyfriends were pimps. Most of these women now either work for a boyfriend they have chosen themselves or have switched from one pimp to another. Sometimes they say they have been sold for tens of thousands of euros.
According to a Christian organization of aid workers named the 'Scharlaken Koord’ (in English, Scarlet Cord), out of the 439 Dutch window-prostitutes on de Wallen they had contact with in 2001-2002, 380 indicated they were introduced into prostitution by a loverboy. According to these aid workers many prostitutes find it difficult to escape prostitution because they are socially isolated and have huge debts, often built up by their former boyfriends in their name. The Scharlaken Koord has set up a special 'pal'-program for prostitutes in which the pals help the women to build up a new social network.
City government actions of 2007/2008
In September 2007, the city council of Amsterdam at the behest of mayor Job Cohen, concerned about trafficking and pimping in the area, forced the owner Charlie Geerts to close 51 prostitution windows, reducing the total number of windows in De Wallen by a third. Amsterdam authorities bought 18 properties from Geerts, with the aim of developing the area with fashion designers and other upscale businesses.
Mariska Majoor of the Prostitution Information Center and representatives of the sex worker rights group De Rode Draad have decried the decision, claiming it would not reduce crime but would only lead to higher rent and more competition for the remaining windows.
In January 2008, the city council announced plans to close the Rosso live sex theatre and the Banana bar strip club in the area. Local business owners have formed the group "Platform 1012" (named after the zipcode of the area) to oppose the efforts of the Amsterdam government. In the end, the actions of the city government resulted in the closure of the Yab Yum brothel.
At the end of 2008, mayor Job Cohen announced plans to close half of the city’s 400 prostitution windows because of suspected criminal gang activity; part of the city's 70 marijuana cafes and sex clubs will also be closed. Mayor Job Cohen: "It is not that we want to get rid of our red-light district. We want to reduce it. Things have become unbalanced and if we do not act we will never regain control".
In 2009, the Dutch justice ministry announced plans to close 320 prostitution "windows" from Amsterdam.
A former Amsterdam prostitute who is now a city councillor said: "There are people who are really proud of the red light district as a tourist attraction. It's supposed to be such a wonderful, cheery place that shows just what a free city we are. But I think it's a cesspit. There's a lot of serious criminality. There's a lot of exploitation of women, and a lot of social distress. That's nothing to be proud of."
- Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum
- Prostitution in the Netherlands
- ^ Amsterdam Red Light District turns spotlight on its practice, Seattle Times, 23 February 2006
- ^ Red Light District holds 2nd annual Open Day, DutchAmsterdam.nl. Accessed 21 September 2007.
- ^ a b Statue in honor of prostitutes unveiled, DutchAmsterdam.nl. Accessed 21 September 2007
- ^ BBC NEWS
- ^ NYtimes.com
- ^ Timesonline.co.uk
- ^ Google Inc.
- ^ Slavenhandel op de wallen, NRC-handelsblad, Ruth Hopkins, 1 October 2005. (Dutch)
- ^ Scharlaken Koord
- ^ RadioNetherlands.nl
- ^ Amsterdam Cuts Prostitute Displays, Spiegel Online, 21 September 2007
- ^ "Amsterdam closes a window on its red-light tourist trade" by Anushka Asthana, The Observer, September 23, 2007.
- ^ Casa Rosso is next red light target, DutchNews.nl, 17 January 2008
- ^ RadioNetherlands.nl
- ^ Timesonline.co.uk
- ^ DigitalJournal.com
- ^ RNW.nl
- Prostitution Information Centre
- Scharlaken Koord, a Christian aid organisation situated in de Wallen, helping prostitutes to leave prostitution.
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