Amsterdam: the women behind the Red Lights

Amsterdam has for a long time been the favourite destination of stags, hens and students to let their hair down by drinking, getting high and maybe even doing some ‘window shopping’. Equally, the spectacle of prostitution in this city has long since become a bit of a joke.

Before going to Amsterdam I was of course aware of the infamous Red Light district, but the reality of the situation didn’t really hit me until it was there, only metres away. From my hostel window I could see three red-light houses; two of which were adorned with women in their underwear, waiting to be bought. Seen purely as a decorative, sexual commodity, these women posed for most of the evening without getting as much as a stare from some tourists. So the situation turned desperate. One woman actually ventured onto the street outside, which is where UK law draws the line, so I turned and tried to forget what I had seen.

However, that was impossible. So, being rather ignorant about the legality of the sex industry in the Netherlands, I decided to do some research. Aside from the fact that prostitution itself and operating a brothel is legal over there (the latter is illegal in the UK), I happened upon the Prostitution Information Centre which, written by former sex-worker Mariska Majoor, defends the practice of prostitution in Amsterdam. It actually claims that the workers want to sell themselves and deserve more respect as professionals.

Whilst I agree that they deserve more respect, I would argue that it should be in deciding with whom they spend the night, because, as it stands, if you can afford a prostitute, you can have her. The only conceivable reason for the workers wanting to sell themselves is the sickening idea ingrained in some societies that women are better off being used by men because they have nothing more to offer in the workplace. Do these girls actually want to sleep with each letch that comes up with the money? Of course not. But they have been convinced that this is their best career choice, and the PIC even suggests that this is empowering; working within the patriarchal structure of society in order to exploit it – for what? Money? Disease? Abortion? Rape? Trafficking? Worse?

The site argues that legalising this practice makes it safer for the workers because unsafe prostitution exists anyway. While this may be true, who knows how much abuse of these women goes under the radar because of their position as sex-objects, even where prostitution is legal?

I think it is important that we ask these questions and consider the women and (undoubtedly) children involved, because, as the PIC says, they do deserve more respect. And whilst it might be more visible in Amsterdam, we also need to consider the unseen sex-workers in every city because ultimately, nobody should be bought.