The Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, wants to ban pimping in the city’s red light district and other areas where prostitutes work. He says the ban is needed to prevent exploitation and human trafficking, and sees it as the next step in cleaning up the red light district.
Amsterdam’s world famous – or infamous – red light district is a network of narrow streets and canals in the historic city centre. Amidst the live sex shows, bars and sex shops, there are around 150 rooms rented to prostitutes, with street-level windows in which they stand to attract custom. But the city council is less enthusiastic about the area than are the hoards of tourists.
Ten years ago a parliamentary commission established that the district was controlled by around 16 people with “serious criminal histories and/or contacts”. In recent years, an increasing number of stories have been circulating about human trafficking and forced prostitution in the red light district. The mayor and city council concluded that the district was no longer a tourist attraction to be proud of.
Brothels shut down
The big clean-up started last summer when Amsterdam refused permits to a number of “window” brothel operators. The most important of them was Charles Geerts, owner of large number of premises in the red light district. For years there had been rumours of Geerts’ involvement in organised crime, although he had never been convicted. He lost the battle with the council and was forced to close down his businesses. The council is buying up the buildings and wants to rent them out as shops and galleries.
Mr Cohen explains the council’s motives:
“Our aim is to combat criminality. To make the district more manageable. To improve the quality of life by reducing the excessive concentration of prostitution, bad-quality cafés and restaurants, and marijuana coffee shops. We want to create more opportunities for bona fide businesses.”
Mr Cohen believes the legalisation of prostitution in the Netherlands seven years ago hasn’t had the desired effect. Many prostitutes have not become “ordinary employees” or self-employed businesswomen, but are still exploited by pimps. The mayor is therefore calling for a ban on pimping.
The pressure group for prostitutes, the Red Thread, strongly opposes the council’s measures. Spokeswoman Metje Blaak says it is counterproductive to buy up premises in the district:
“The more brothels there are, the less exploitation there is,” she says. “Like this Cohen is playing into the hands of exploitation. Because the women who are exploited will now go and work somewhere we can’t get to them. You’re just sending them deeper into the woods.”
The Red Thread also sees no advantage in a pimping ban. Ms Blaak says the measure is unnecessary because pimping is already illegal. In the criminal code there is indeed an article forbidding “the inducement of women to commit involuntary sexual acts for money”. The offence is punishable with a prison sentence of up to eight years. The Red Thread thinks Mr Cohen would do better to enforce the existing law.
Will Amsterdam’s new policy lead to the disappearance of its famous red light district? Mr Cohen says he’s not out to make prostitution in the district impossible. But that would be nothing to feel sorry about, says Amsterdam councillor Karina Schaapman, herself a former prostitute:
“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.”
For more: www.radionetherlands.nl