I went to Amsterdam this past week to enjoy the intricate canal system, the rich history, and the Dutch architecture. To be totally candid, Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist cities in the world not just because of its canals and museums, but also because of its association with sex and drugs and beer.
Amsterdam is a really liberal city, especially when it comes to sex; prostitution is legal. Amsterdam’s red light district is one of the most famous in the world, offering tours, sex shows, sex stores, brothels, museums, and more for curious tourists to explore. But this area has a strict rule: don’t take pictures or videos of the women workers.
A red light district (or pleasure district) is an area of a town or city, usually a large and urban city, where there are a lot of brothels, strip clubs, and other sex related businesses. Amsterdam is best known for its red light district, but there are several other large red light districts all over the world in places like Hamburg, Paris, and Bangkok. The name comes from the red lights that illuminate the windows where the women work.
How do women get into this type of work? Simply put, several of these women workers are victims of sex trafficking, brought over from Eastern Europe by pimps to work. Women workers can be beaten, raped, or knifed by their pimps. They will be coerced into plastic surgery and forced to have abortions. Angelica, a former red light district worker, was lured to London at the age of 17 by her “boyfriend”. But when she arrived in London, her passport was taken and she was sold to an Amsterdam brothel. Angelica’s story is full of pain and suffering because of the rise of sex tourism, and you can read the full story here.
Women workers are not safe and happy from legislation, despite what tour guides and other businesses profiting from prostitution say. There are myths of The Happy Hooker and the Pretty Woman redemption that seem to justify everything, but these are purely myths. Sex tourism is a booming industry that makes women workers feel like trinkets being sold in a store, not like people. One women forced into prostitution says:
“We are being sold just like something in a shop”
Dutch lawmakers are in the process of creating and enforcing a law that would make it an offence to have sex with a prostitute known or suspected of having been trafficked. Offenders will face up to four years in prison.
Red light districts are attempts to promote open and honest understanding of human nature when it comes to sex. In Amsterdam specifically, sex workers have their own union, police protection, and professional standards to follow. But sex trafficking is still a huge issue in these districts that can be forgotten by gawking tourists. Women are being forced into this line of work all over the world, and it’s time to end it. End sex tourism to end sex trafficking.
Also published on Medium.