Amsterdam sex workers fear resorting to illegal work as early closing times cut income
Many businesses in Amsterdam's main Red Light District and the surrounding streets in De Wallen neighborhood will be subjected to earlier closing times starting this weekend, including the window prostitution brothels and other sex work companies. They will have to close at 3 a.m. on weekends instead of 6 a.m., and sex workers have raised concerns about the municipality's decision to force them to close up shop early. There is a growing concern that some may resort to working illegally and in hiding in order to compensate for the income loss due to the shortened working hours.
During a demonstration on Thursday to protest against the plan and the proposed construction of a new erotic center as an alternative to the Red Light District, several sex workers told NL Times they need those extra hours to turn a profit after paying for the rooms they rent out. Earlier closing time will cut down the earning time for sex workers roughly by half. “Before midnight, people just walk and watch, but they don’t pay,” said a sex worker working in the Red Light District.
She pointed out that particularly during the summer months, more people tend to stay outdoors at night due to the warmer temperatures, the longer days, and the later sunset. This results in fewer clients seeking their services, because "people only come when it's dark." She said the earlier closing times may lead to the loss of two to three customers. Sex workers typically need to earn money from four clients just to pay for their 180-euro nightly room rental fee.
Another sex worker told NL Times that she has already heard stories of sex workers being approached for illegal work between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., after the new closing time. “I get it, people need the money,” she sighed "But it’s so unsafe."
When asked about these stories, Felicia Anna, the chair of Red Light United admitted it was "a possibility." The former sex worker said, "That's what we’re now afraid of.” She explained that starting Saturday, sex workers will experience a large loss of income. This could potentially tempt some to consider working illegally to cover their expenses. Those in complicated financial situations might accept clients or appointments they would typically decline from the secure space behind their window. "They need these three hours," she stressed.
Anna pointed out that this problem was already evident during the pandemic when brothel windows were forced to close. Some continued to work underground, at home or in rented apartments, out of sight, and at higher risk. “We’ve heard bad stories,” Anna commented, explaining “customers would rob them or blackmail them to call the police because they knew they were working illegally.” Another problem is that sex workers are less likely to report violence when they work illegally.
"We know from studies that sex workers are at risk when they work illegally.” Research conducted by Erasmus MC Rotterdam and SOA Aids Netherlands on prostitution during the lockdown showed that sex workers are more likely to face violence when involved in illegal work.
"Legal prostitution is the safest form of sex work," Anna asserted.
This weekend, extra police presence will be deployed in the Red Light District to ensure all window brothels adhere to the 3 p.m, closing time, according to Anna. What will happen afterward remains uncertain.