Why Amsterdam really closed the Red Light District
As I've talked about in this post before here, the city government of Amsterdam has been closing down windows under the pretenses of fighting human trafficking. And like I explained in that post, the policy of closing down windows, or buying them actually, hasn't helped in the fight against human trafficking. In fact, they've only put the girls in more danger by closing down their safe workplaces.
Now I'm willing to believe a lot of things, but what I don't believe is that the city government of Amsterdam was ever really interested in fighting human trafficking. And I believe that for a number of reasons. First of all, because everyone could've figured out by him or herself that closing down windows doesn't help in any way to fight human trafficking, it only endangers those women that loose their workplace, because you loose them out of sight. You can't protect people if you don't know where they are, and girls in need of help can't call for it. Also virtually every prostitution organisation warned the city government of Amsterdam about this, yet they still continued with their plans.
And secondly I don't believe it, because the prostitution windows aren't the only thing being attacked by the city government of Amsterdam. Also the coffeeshops are being attacked by the city government of Amsterdam. In the eyes of the city government of Amsterdam, those coffeeshops are crime-related, just like how prostitution would be crime-related. And on top of that, also other small shops have been branded as 'undesirable', and have been threatened to be closed down because they would also be crime-related.
Things like human trafficking, forced prostitution, money laundering and other criminal activities where mentioned by former alderman Lodewijk Asscher as the main reason for closing down large parts of the Red Light District, not just windows, but shops, coffeeshops and everything else they saw as crime-related.

As I've already said in my previous post about Amsterdam's policy towards prostitution, the city government of Amsterdam has lost every single case against business owners that where considered to be crime-related. So why does the city government of Amsterdam keep threatening to close down businesses which where already proven to be clean? Is it really because there's something wrong going on, that nobody can find, and even the city government itself can't prove? Is there really so much crime happening every day in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, like how former alderman Lodewijk Asscher suggested, that I haven't seen in 4 years time working there every single day? Am I really missing out on it, or is it something else?
Is there perhaps some other interest the city government has in the center of Amsterdam, that's so important, that only companies in the center of Amsterdam, in the heart of the Red Light District, are being threatened to close down? After all, why would this crime only be concentrated around the Red Light District area, one of the most protected areas in Amsterdam, where police are on the street every second of the day, where camera's are running 24/7? Why would crime only be happening in coffeeshops in the Red Light District, while there are so many coffeeshops outside of the Red Light District as well?

Some people have suggested the real interest of the city government lies within the buildings. That the city government of Amsterdam wouldn't really be interested in fighting crime, but rather be interested in the value of the buildings most of these 'crimes' where happening. But knowing that the city government doesn't buy those buildings, but rather a real estate company does that for the city government, I doubt that. In fact, the partners of the city government of Amsterdam, those real estate companies, only have lost money on this whole clean up project, and have even quit the project, because the people who are in those buildings now pay hardly any to sometimes even no rent at all, if they can find someone to get into those buildings in the first place. Many of the former window prostitution buildings are now empty, some are being occupied, like I talked about in the previous post.

No, the answer lies within something else. There is an influential group of people living in the center of Amsterdam. Within this group of people there are influential business people, politicians and other people with deep pockets, which apparently the city government wanted to keep as friends. These people have been living there for years already, and they've seen the Red Light District grow from a nice neighborhood into a massive tourists attraction. After the legalization of prostitution and softdrugs in 2000, they've seen tourism grow massively. Huge groups of English tourists coming to the Red Light District, to party, drink, smoke legally a joint and visit legally a prostitute. The end result was drunk English tourists making a lot of noise, harassing people and pissing against people their doors and houses because they where too drunk and stoned to realize what they where doing.
The citizens living in and around the Red Light District grew restless, they got angry, and demanded the city government to do something about it, as one of them, Piet Leeghwater (later revealed to be Gerrit van der Veen), wrote about here on 22 February 2008. Something had to change. And so they formed a collective, together with other people from the city government and the police and some local business owners, and formed the IBO (Integraal Burgwallen Overleg). This group, under the lead of Gerrit van der Veen, became a powerful influence on the city governments policy, under the wings of former alderman Lodewijk Asscher.
But what could they do about those annoying drunk English tourists causing trouble all the time? They couldn't tell those people to stay home. The police was already having problems to control them, so that wasn't an option as well. Some how, the city government needed to find a way to get rid of these kind of tourists, and attract different kind of tourists. Friendlier kind of tourists, the kind that are quiet and nice, that don't get drunk, tourists with children and stuff. Hold on! We need families with children!!!

And so it happened that the city government of Amsterdam, under the wings of Lodewijk Asscher, started to work on a plan, closely together with the IBO, on attracting different kinds of tourists, by changing the face of Amsterdam from prostitution and drugs into a family friendly city. Prostitution and drugs would needed to be reduced, as well as shops that sold things that where not family friendly, like sexshops etc. Cafe's and bars would needed to be hold back, and something else would have to come in place to attract the new kind of tourists that wouldn't cause any trouble.
Lodewijk Asscher cunningly used false stories about crime-related businesses in the Red Light District as an acceptable excuse for the general public to reduce the Red Light District. He used false stories of Patricia Perquin (read more about that here), to suggest many women would be trafficked and forced into prostitution, and claimed reducing the number of windows would help to get better control over the area (the fact that other girls would simply disappear apparently didn't matter to him). He claimed to be helping prostitutes, and who could argue with someone like that? The people who are against prostitution got what they wanted (less prostitution), and the people that a were in favor of prostitution couldn't argue with a plan that would help victims.
A few people protested against these plans, but anyone who protested would be considered a supporter of human trafficking by Lodewijk Asscher (a tactic he borrowed from Bush), saying if you're not with us, you're against us. By closing down windows it would become less interesting for those English tourists to come to Amsterdam, and in stead move on to other places with legal prostitution like to Germany for instance.

But closing down windows wouldn't be enough. Also the coffeeshops where a target for this plan, and needed to be reduced. After some failed ideas (read here), recently the city government has finally achieved that (read it here). Now they don't have to give out new permits to existing coffeeshops, because according to the court they could indeed be involved with crime. The fact that no crime was ever proven in a coffeeshop was irreverent, the city government is the boss, and they can do what they want how they sit fit. Also the fact that a new law that states that coffeeshops cannot be close to schools, enabled the court to agree with the city government. This law was initially used to prevent minors from buying cannabis in coffeeshops (even though cannabis is illegal for minors already) and smoke it during school time, but apparently University student counts as minors as well.

Also cafe's and bars got a tough time ahead, as they got closure times, so they wouldn't cause too much noise for the people in the neighborhood. The fact that most of these bars where already there long before most people where even living there, doesn't matter apparently. I also wonder why people would complain about the noise of bars and cafe's, since you know when you live in the center of Amsterdam that this is the case. Also sexshops got to deal with closure times, before they could be open all night long, along with the Red Light District itself, but now all of the sudden they had to close down at 10 'o clock at night.
All of these policies where created with one single goal in mind, to reduce the number of drunk English tourists causing trouble in the center of Amsterdam.

And to attract the new type of tourists the city government wanted to attract, they focused on the grand reopening of Amsterdam's biggest and most famous museum, the Rijksmuseum. But of course that wouldn't be enough, there would need to be some kind of big promotion or international publicity stunt to show people all over the world the new face of Amsterdam. Not the face of the Red Light District, prostitutes, drugs etc. But that of a clean and nice city filled with culture and history, a city you could take your entire family to.

And so it happened that the American president Barack Obama recently kicked off one of the world's largest marketing campaign (proof here) for a city and a museum by visiting the Rijksmuseum and holding a press conference in front of one of the world's most famous paintings, the Night Watch from Rembrandt.
Not very surprising, the Rijksmuseum had a record breaking opening year, and also the news covered here how the Rijksmuseum added a lot to the growth of tourism in Holland.

But now what about the aftermath. Has trouble making English people disappeared and been replaced with family friendly tourists? Partially, because even though the new Rijksmuseum attracted a lot of new tourists, those will not become regulars. The tourists that come to the Red Light District come back every year, year after year, because those people love it here in Amsterdam, because here they can do all the things they can't do at home, like smoke weed and go to prostitutes. But how many times will people come back to visit the same museum with the same paintings? They won't. They'll come once, and after they'll go to other countries and cities that also have museums, just like Amsterdam.
Fact is, that Amsterdam is trying to compete in a competition that is too big. Huge cities with enormous budgets like New York, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, etc. They're all big cities with many more museums then Amsterdam has, and they all have their own identity as museum cities. While Amsterdam will always been known for it's drugs and prostitution, no matter what you do.
And the only thing all those new rules and policies have achieved, is that because those cafe's and bars have to close so early now, all those drunk people keep hanging in the streets of the Red Light District, because they have no place to go, and they start making trouble at my work in the Red Light District.

Recently a Dutch TV channel made a two-part documentary about the closing of the Red Light District (part one and part two here). The documentary showed perfectly how the city government of Amsterdam used the story of human trafficking as an excuse to close down parts of the Red Light District, but not for the safety of the women. In the documentary called 'De slag om de Wallen' (translation: The battle for the Red Light District), mayor Eberhard van der Laan was seen heavily agitated by the interviewer who confronted the mayor with the results of the policies of Amsterdam. It was clear the mayor didn't like it, and he had trouble to answer some of the questions the interviewer asked him. It's showing just how much the mayor, but also former alderman Lodewijk Asscher, have lied to keep a small group of influential people happy in order to maintain their power.

The fact that dozens of women ended up without a save workplace, and simply vanished into nothingness, not knowing if they're safe or in danger, the fact that Amsterdam's cafe's and bars have drawn empty because of the new closing times and reduction of tourists for the Red Light, the fact that sexshops struggle to survive as their income has dropped enormously since they've had to close down before the Red Light get's busy, and the fact that dozens of companies and their employers have ended up without a job apparently mean nothing to them. Apparently the interests of a few important people with money and influence is more important then the lives and jobs of dozens, if not hundreds of other people. And the sad thing is, it won't work, because people will always come back to the Red Light District, because that's unique, and a city with a museum isn't.

(With a huge thanks to my boyfriend for the research and the website of Marcel Katée for a lot of the information)

Dutch version


10 Responses
  1. Ivonn Says:

    That sounds a bit unbelievable to me. Are the people living near the red light district (or that influential group) count more than the amount of tax that sexworkers and coffee shops pay?


  2. Felicia Anna Says:

    @Ivonn
    International companies don't want to invest in a city that promotes drugs and prostitution. Think about the taxes they're missing on this one. And it's generally known already that the IBO has a huge influence on the policiy of Amsterdam, that's no secret to anyone.

    Keeping influential people friends in politics is more important then a few prostitutes who pay some taxes. By the way, the taxes don't go to the city government of Amsterdam, but to the general government.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    Off topic, but I wish you would be able to have a talk with the old president Carter. I believe he is generally a good willing person, but severely misinformed (he condemmed the Dutch semi-legalisation of prostitution yesterday).

    He has the general victim-of-women-abuse prejudice.

    As an American not so uncommon: because of severe repression, many prostitutes in the USA are addicted, have a pimp and are often harrassed.

    For America it might seem a big step forward to adopt the nordic model, but these officials are badly misinformed by the abolition lobby, just like in Canada this week.

    Rootman


  4. Ivonn Says:

    Felicia Anna: OK, I guess my question was a bit naive...:)
    It is also an off topic but I'm writing in my blog about the fact that a lot of cases are counted as human trafficking even if it was not actual human traffick. Do you have any source that shows it?
    (Btw then i'm also a human trafficker because once I went to work in Switzerland and I borrowed some money to a friend so that she could come and work with me.)


  5. M. Wryter Says:

    In the matter of sex and sex workers, these people should be free to ply their trade as they see fit as long as it is done in a respectful intelligent manner. They provide a service that is valid and worthy and should be treated with respect in doing so. Some of these law makers are a contradiction in terms as they would be the first to use a sex worker and these are the same people who make the outlandish laws in the first place. Many sex workers can and do govern them selves and others in the trade and do it well. Perhaps a form on working co-op could be made up where their voice could be head and they would have power over what choices they make and with whom. Strength in numbers works well.........


  6. Anonymous Says:

    I know in Europe,It's a crime to express criticism and dissent against what the government does and you can end up in jail.In the u.s. it's legal,The first amendment .I have criticize the government. In my country as much that in German or in the Netherlands ,maybe, I would being prison for 15 month .Taking action and force to get rid of a unjust law means prison too ,So in the united states ,Committing and act defiance and going to jail for it ,to get rid of the unjust law .So what ? Why have no pornographer and sex worker get together with pro sex citizen to stop these laws .Sure you end up in jail ,but, going to jail for your rights actually can do away with a fascist law,with power in numbers I'm afraid that the porn biz in their country are cowardly and the sex worker in u,s and theirs, are cowardly .When i found out about this repression ,which started din the 90's ,I decide I would never t this country ever.I was planning got go for the sex club in there ,but forget it.It 's tradition of minority sex business to be cowardly to fight . .Remember many people went to jail fighting to stop the Vietnam war ,in united states ,Many broke the law,Today they have record as a result ,but it was worth it .Getting rid of an unjust law not only protesting ,but committing an act of defiance ,just to go jail for it ,sit ins. Revenge, promoting a movement to do way with family value tourism too This is the only affecting tool with out using violence ,The willing to go to jail for your right s,like Martin Luther king did .Europe you could learn a lesson in u,s history ,What has happen against sex positive Netherlands and pro Mary Jane Netherlands has gotten me angry .The victims are not fighting for their rights has gotten me mad too, Combine Protesting and defiance education could make this country the way it use to be ,if there was no cowards .,This country had already thing for both families and adults, One business provides tourist baby sitting their kid and teaching them how to cook and let their parents try it out ,The best thing the this country would do is to is fight for integration of both adult tourism with family tourism,To make adult tourism equals with family tourism ,not separate ,The government would make more tax money under this plan than what been going on since the 90's .Even before the repression the Netherlander government did not make much tax money as integration could ,Mind you not assimilation ,that's conformity ,Integration would make The Nether land a better vacation spot,


  7. Unknown Says:

    I'm from the US. Screw the world for always ruining fun in anyway. Human trafficking is wrong but what if a woman chooses that line of work. No! Worlds gotta ruin it. Screw them and screw Europe for changing. Could have moved it out of town. Which they probably did. Like probation, if you can get it legal, than illegal. We are not all perfect 10s.


  8. Anonymous Says:

    Ban the english. Problem solved!


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    Romanian prostitute working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam (De Wallen), speaking out for the truth behind prostitution. Blogging about prostitution, human trafficking, forced prostitution, politics and all the myths surrounding it. Member of PROUD, the Dutch union of sex workers.