Fight against women trafficking in the red light district

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Some names have been changed to protect anonymity where requested.

It’s obviously one of the most popular but also controversial tourist spots of Amsterdam. The red light district, in Dutch also called De Wallen, is situated in one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam and has around 2000 prostitutes. In 2007 the municipality of Amsterdam launched ‘Project 1012’  to fight against the high level of crime and human trafficking in the postal code area ‘1012’, where De Wallen is also located. After five years, has this initiative paid off?     According to Maria Vink, chairman of the Geisha Foundation, Project 1012 has not succeeded in curtailing women trafficking.

The Geisha Foundation supports women who work voluntarily in the sex industry and helps them fight for their rights.  Vink, who has been in the business for 26 years, says that the project has indeed rounded up some of the big boys in the area, but the initiative has had an adverse effect on the women who work in the district voluntarily. “Because of the closure of a big number of workplaces, these women are forced to search for an alternative place, which is hard to find if you are an independent worker.” Vink says that in Amsterdam women are allowed to work from home, but it is forbidden to advertise. In most cases, they are not able to generate enough clients by themselves with the alarming consequence that they sometimes fall in the hands of a pimp. She says that the municipality has decided to fight against the prostitution and not against human trafficking.

On the contrary, Frits Rouvoet of the Bright Fame Foundation says that the municipality of Amsterdam made a statement with Project 1012. He thinks ‘the cleaning up’ is a step in the right direction. Bright Fame supports women who want to step out of the business. Rouvoet believes that nobody works voluntarily in the sex business. He has talked with a lot of women in the area and he says that everyone wants to leave the business. “Unfortunately, lots of them don’t have a choice. They are manipulated by lover boys and lured into the business under false pretenses.” He says that the first step that the Dutch government should make is to prohibit prostitution again. Prior to 2000, prostitution was illegal. The next step would be to forbid any customer to buy sex. This last step has been proven to work in other countries such as Sweden, he says.

Although both representatives differ in their plan of approach, they agree that something has to be done. The situation in the red light district is getting more tense. The prostitutes are feeling the effects of the financial crisis, such that many women are forced to drop their prices or give ‘extreme’ services against their will. The presence of forced prostitutes brings extra pressure on the kettle, because this group of women often has to make a certain amount of money for their lover boys. “The market is poisoned,” says Rouvoet. Vink says that the illegal trade of prostitutes ensures that the voluntary prostitutes don’t stand a chance to build up their profession. “These women are normal people—students, mothers, just people who want to make their money and pay their bills.”