Feuds resurface over future of Amsterdam's Red Light District

Red Light District, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Red Light District, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsJase EssUnsplash

The first meeting to discuss the future of Amsterdam’s Red Light District was met with disagreement and polarizing opinions on Wednesday evening at the Compagnietheater, the 18th century former church that sits in De Wallen. The meeting, organized by Mayor Femke Halsema, gathered residents, sex workers, and entrepreneurs who will be affected by the proposed changes for the area. 

Halsema’s move to overhaul the popular neighborhood was announced last week with a report, “The Future of Window Prostitution in Amsterdam,” where she outlined four possible solutions to curb human trafficking, protect sex workers from disrespectful tourists, and help decrease the overcrowding of tourists in the area. 

Wednesday evening’s meeting opened discussions on whether or not the city should relocate the Red Light District windows to another neighborhood, reduce the number of brothels in the city center by moving some to other neighborhoods, add more licensed windows, or close the window curtains entirely. 

Revamping the famed area won support from local residents who believe too much noise is caused by the high volume of tourists flooding the district to get a glimpse of the women in the windows. However closing the curtains is not the most attractive proposal to the sex workers. “How are you going to attract customers if the curtain is closed?” Felicia Anna, the chair of sex worker's organization Red Light United, said to Dutch outlet Nieuwsuur. 

A counter-proposal was also floated: adding more windows instead of reducing them. This was met by cheers from the sex workers in attendance, according to news outlet Het Parool. They, in turn, blamed residential Airbnb and short-stay housing for the overcrowded city center. 

In an email to the NL Times following the meeting, Anna stated: “We are not anti-tourism since a large majority of our customers are tourists. However, we do want something to be done against the disrespectful behavior of some people with more policing of the area.”

Anna further stated they would like “a ban on photos and videos of sex workers, which is the number one concern among sex workers, since this is currently not illegal.”

Sex workers have lost many windows in the past 10 years forcing them underground and possibly into human trafficking, according to Anna. This is what the mayor said her quest to overhaul the district aims to avoid.

The meeting ended with no clear agreement in sight and the mayor cautioning that not everyone will get their way.