Study: Utrecht red light district shutdown harmed sex workers

Zandpad, Utrecht
Women working on the Zandpad houseboats in Utrecht. June 29, 2009 (photo: Mario Arias / Flickr)Women working on the Zandpad houseboats in Utrecht. June 29, 2009 (photo: Mario Arias / Flickr)

With reporting by Demid Getik.

The closure of the Zandpad red light district in Utrecht was a hasty and poorly thought-out decision that led to the victimization of hundreds of prostitutes, according to a report by the Center for Information & Research on Organized Crime (Ciroc) released on Wednesday. The July 2013 shutdown of the houseboat-based window prostitution area caused problems for sex workers financially, mentally and physically, the report states.

Between 200 and 250 prostitutes found themselves without a place to work after the boats were shut. Since then, illegal prostitution is on the rise in Utrecht after sex workers were forced underground. The city also contemplated a ban on in-home prostitution less than six months ago.

"The municipality closed all boats after seeing signs of human trafficking, but by putting the prostitutes out on the street, they made them more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation," Dina Siegel, a professor of criminology at the University of Utrecht, was quoted as saying by the NRC. Her team examined the effects of closure of the Zandpad with Ciroc. In their study, the team interviewed prostitutes, customers and employees of the municipality.

"There is no 'plan B' for the women. They are left to their own demise," Siegel said.

Many prostitutes fell victim to the criminal underworld as a result of the closure, the study argues. They are driven to receive clients in hotels or at home, with little opportunity to protect themselves. The municipality should think of an alternative to the closure, according to Siegel.