INSIDE AMSTERDAM’S RED LIGHT DISTRICT
Amsterdam’s Red Light District – An area known so well for it’s entire dedication to prostitution, ‘coffee shops’ and sexually eager men.
It’s an infamous district of Amsterdam that rakes in 650 million euros every single year – so I guess you could say.. sex really does sell?
Here’s a little history about the District:
Since the very beginning of Amsterdam’s existence, prostitution has been a big part of its history. In the early 1200’s, women were found waiting near the major trading harbour in the hopes of snatching a sailor. They would carry red lanterns to flatter their figure, and lure in the eager – and often desperate men who were bound to offer money in the return of sexual favours.
From there, the close proximity to the harbour naturally attracted prostitutes and migrant populations, which is where the district – also known as De Wallen – still currently stands.
The Red Light District remains as one of the oldest areas of Amsterdam, which is now consumed by over 290 brothels and 6000 prostitutes – majority originating from Eastern Europe.
The prostitution trade has now been legal in The Netherlands for over 200 years.
I experienced this area of Amsterdam at midnight back in 2014, and I must say… It was something I will never forget.
Call me a feminist (Yes, I am one), but seeing women openly give their bodies to men for the sole purpose of a decent income, really made me incredibly concerned.
Until quite recently, I was completely unaware that more than 60% of the workers in Amsterdam’s red light district are foreign-born. From an internal source within the industry, it is said that majority of the women moved to The Netherlands to earn a valuable income from the most open and accepted prostitution districts in the world. For most of the prostitutes, the move was entirely influenced by the legalized sex trade that Amsterdam withholds and that working in the district was the easiest way to make an income for their families back home.
It’s incredibly disheartening, not only to see the district as an industry to fall into when things get rough, but also to see that prostitution has the ability to make more money than most industries in the world:
In an interview written from a female prostitute in the Red Light District, 1/2 of the income is received from married men (You can make your own opinion on that one) – and from that they have the ability to earn up to 100X the normal salary from an Eastern European country, where most originate from.
If the prostitution isn’t the problem, that’s an issue within itself.
Although there have been many accounts that these women enjoy the acts of prostitution, it is more than just the sex work that exceeds the limits of degradation:
As I strolled around the district amongst the seedy red glow, it became seemingly evident of what the men and women found attractive…
Tall, curvy, women of colour stood in large windows wearing nothing but a few small strands of clothing, without a single person taking a glance or even batting an eyelid. Whilst thin, blonde, big chested, white women had queues waiting amongst their doors with men close to drooling at their appearance.
As I walked through one of the busiest streets in the district (feeling very uneasy might I add – and with the strong smell of cannabis wafting through the air), I overheard a young man ask a white European woman what he would receive for €50 – with the response of “the lot”.
He entered the room, the curtain closed, and the rest was history.
Walking past coffeeshop after coffeeshop, naked woman after naked woman, heavily drugged tourist after heavily drugged tourist…I felt a mixture of different emotions – anxious, disturbed and incredibly saddened.
The rooms were cold; the size of a small bathroom with white tiled walls and floors, a small bench the size of child’s bed with white sheets laid across them. Dimmed lighting and a hospital-style curtain draping across the glass door. A red light shining above the window next to an array of other brothels, museums, sex shows and coffee shops.
From outsiders – just like myself – the sex industry often appears to be very forced. It’s easy to assume that becoming a prostitute is nothing but a last resort, although most (most being the key word here) of the sex workers in Amsterdam’s red light district are entirely self-employed. This means, there are no pimps – the women hire the rooms for a certain amount of hours and take home all of the money they earn.
They are a part of their own union; they receive extreme police protection, they have access to a free information centre, 24/7 monitoring, and frequent health checks. They are their own business owners and guess what… They pay taxes too!
Regardless of the objective, the life of a female prostitute still appears absolutely heart-breaking. Not at the fact that they’re initiating sex for money, but the fact that their bodies are completely objectified for a sexually deprived male.
The red light district is very different to the lives of a private prostitute (although there’s no doubt they are frequently forced into the industry too). Here however, these women are openly and publicly displayed.
The fact that they’re observed by so many travellers that just want to see naked women on the streets, is nothing short of a nightmare.
No matter if this is a job that these women signed up to, the fact that prostitution is merely just a way to make money for thousands of these women is still so concerning. Especially that there are some who partake in the industry under their own accord, and some not so much.
Every year, there are between 1000 and 7000 victims of human trafficking in Amsterdam.
Male privilege is a problem as it is, and I do fear what the number of trafficked women and female/domestic abuse cases would be if the sex industry was illegal.
Would it be higher? Or would it be lower?
I know that sex sells, and the sex industry is something that will occur regardless of the legalization.
But the real problem in the red light district is that prostitution has become the most popular tourist attraction of the entire city – Isn’t there so many other incredible things to admire?
One day, I hope to see the objectification of women’s bodies as something that’s far from appealing to a tourist. I visited the area for the pure reason of curiosity, and I left there feeling more than curious.
The district is aimed at straight men, there is absolutely no doubt about it. I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of male prostitutes in the Red Light District too – but they aren’t in the limelight like the thousands of women are.
Looking at the women’s bodies as an object of a man’s sexual desire, without any idea of whether they are there for themselves, or against their free will – is absolutely terrifying.
As I walked around those streets I thought long and hard about the women behind those doors. I wondered how they must feel when tourists see them as a crowd pleaser – or as an admirable object of the city. How they must feel when tourists take photos of them without their approval. How they must feel when the room next door has a line of eager men, but theirs is without one.
Women are already exceedingly judged by their appearance throughout society, and what I experienced in the district is a whole new problem.
I realized that this is only one of many areas of the world that are entirely dominated by female’s working for male pleasure. Female prostitutes and male investors – is that really something to praise?
It’s a horrifying thought to think that prostitution is something that’s praised in society, but so many sexualities are still incredibly vilified:
Why is it that females flaunting their bodies for men is okay, but when it comes from a gay or transgender person it’s not? Why is it that when two people of the same-sex show public affection, is it labelled as anything but attractive?
As you can probably gather, the district really got me thinking.
What I walked into was an industry that is completely hidden from anything else in the world. After all, most of the parents of the prostitutes have no idea of the industry their children are in. So I guess I will never truly know the truth’s that lie behind those doors, nor will I ever understand it.
Sex is and always will be sex, and I guess the legalization of the industry is ultimately a good thing – Having a ‘safe’ environment for the women who do this on their own accord is nothing short of beneficial.
Women expressing their sexuality is a great thing, but the hidden side of this industry is terrifying – especially when it’s praised by thousands of tourists every single day.
Objectifying women is a problem, and sadly that’s exactly what I witnessed in the Red Light District.
There is far more to Amsterdam than the lanes of prostitution.
Yes, sex sells. But the objectification of a woman’s body shouldn’t.
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