For those that aren’t in the know – in Amsterdam, prostitution and the purchasing of sex is legal, and has been since 1988. Walking through the Red Light District is supposedly a fun, unique experience – countless people had reassured me that I “had to visit it”, but I found the narrow, cobbled streets of De Wallen to be passively hostile, especially to women.
Amsterdam City Council goes to great lengths to try and ensure the safety of the women working.
Police patrol the city; each room is equipped with a panic button; the women undergo regularly mandatory health checks and are encouraged to register their profession, to pay taxes.
The logic behind the legalisation of prostitution seems to be that by bringing the underworld into the light, the criminal aspect would surely dissolve.
In theory, women would be less likely to suffer abuse at the hands of pimps, less likely to be involved in human trafficking, and more likely to earn a decent wage.
And yet, the system hasn’t worked – it’s made things worse.
A prostitute in Amsterdam, a notoriously expensive city, will pay up to one hundred euro a night for the rent of a window.
She also has to pay a pimp, and pay taxes if she registers – though only 5% of prostitutes have actually registered for tax, perhaps for fear of the social stigma that comes with publicly announcing yourself as a prostitute.
Just in order to take some home for herself she’ll have to have sex with ten to fifteen people per day. The vocal union for the sex workers, De Rode Draad, went bankrupt and closed down in 2009. In addition to this, 13 sex workers have been murdered in De Wallen since 1990.
After twenty years of legalised prostitution, the council ended up cutting down the Red Light district’s brothels from 482 to 243 after bouts of criminal activity.
The problem is that the legalising of prostitutes creates a higher demand for these women. That’s where human trafficking comes in, and Amsterdam – along with much of Eastern Europe – is one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2008, six men were convicted of the “largest case of human trafficking ever brought to trial in the Netherlands.”
According to the investigation: “some of the victims were compelled to have breast enlargement surgery, and one defendant was convicted of forcing at least one woman to have an abortion.
“Women were beaten and forced to sit in icy water to avoid bruising. They also were tattooed.”