Sex work and tourism in the Red Light District
The Red Light District in the summer around 4 AM in the morning
In the last couple of years the debate about human trafficking in the Red Light District has been replaced with the discussion about tourism. This debate started a couple of years ago when some locals complained about it being too crowded with tourists in Amsterdam, but quickly got picked up by the media and turned into a witch-hunt against tourism. Now the media has turned this anti-tourism sentiment into a weapon against prostitution in the Red Light District, as they are blaming prostitution in the area for attracting too many tourists, while at the same time claiming sex workers can't work because of all these tourists.

The timing of this debate seems very convenient for the people that have been trying to push prostitution out of the Red Light District for years. Just after we did our protest against Project 1012, the gentrification project to close down windows in the Red Light District, which used the narrative of human trafficking as an excuse to close down windows, this narrative slowly died. After all, it's quite hard to disagree with the people you're claiming to help. Quickly after that the media picked up the complaints of some people that Amsterdam became too crowded with tourists, and slowly worked their way towards a narrative where the Red Light District would be too crowded with tourists. Their end game seems to be the same as before, now they're just using the new excuse of over-tourism in stead of human trafficking to get rid of prostitution.

This masterplan consists out of the media influencing the public opinion about tourism. Their masterpiece was released last week. After a couple of years of a slow build up, they released an article with a sex worker complaining about before having customers on the streets, but now only tourists on the streets. And that the income of sex workers has dropped a lot because of these tourists. At least, that's the narrative they presented. Most sex workers in the Red Light District however feel different about it.

We did a small round and talked with a dozen of my colleagues. The results might be quite surprising  for those that think we're not making any more money because of tourism. Because when asked if sex workers in the Red Light District thought it was too busy on the streets, a whopping 75% of them answered no. In fact, they even claimed it has become less busy. Quite the opposite of the narrative in the media. And just to clarify, we asked them specifically about the people on the streets, not about their clientele.

The sex workers that did feel it's too busy in the Red Light District, where interestingly all sex workers with a short career in the Red Light District. Of all the sex workers who have worked here for 5 years or longer, they all felt it was less busy then before. In short, sex workers that are new here might think it's busy now, but haven't seen how things where before. I have however, as I am one of those sex workers who thinks it's not busy at all, but in fact the Red Light District has become much more quite compared to 9 years ago when I got started here.

When I started working here 9 years ago, it was busy as hell in the Red Light District. What now you can only find on a Saturday evening, used to be how all the days where before. It was so busy back in those days, that I had to leave earlier from work to get to my window, because I had to wave my way through the crowds. These days this only happens in the weekends. On a regular Tuesday these days however, it's quiet on the streets. Especially in the late hours it gets really quiet. Before there where every day people walking around until 6 AM in the morning, but these days the area becomes quiet after around 2 or 3 AM in the morning already. The only people that are left after that, are a couple of people still walking around because they don't have enough money to go inside with a sex worker, them and the drug dealers on the streets. Often around 5 AM in the morning there are actually more drug dealers still left on the street than other people.

So the claim that the area has become much busier is just nonsense, unless you would compare it to decades ago, let's say the 80's. But if that would be the case, then why didn't this come up earlier? The witch hunt on tourism didn't start until around 2016, almost a year after we did the demonstration. The sex worker they spoke with in the media started working here by the way in mid 2016. Yes, she has 35 years of experience of working as a sex workers, of which mostly in her home country, not the Red Light District. Apparently she just occasionally would fill in for one of her friends who worked here in the past. But she didn't really start working here on a daily base until about 3 years ago. So comparing that blue Monday you worked a couple of times with how things are now, isn't really very reliable. And claiming things of 10 years ago, when you weren't here every day also isn't.

Because one of the claims that she makes, is that the windows in the day time 10 years ago where full. Interesting to say for someone that rarely was here back in those days. I started here 9 years ago, and back then already most of the windows in the day time where empty. So either something radically changed in 1 year time, or she simply is stating things she doesn't know about, because she wasn't here. Especially, since my other colleagues that have worked here longer then me, say the same thing: the windows in the day time have always been mostly empty. So this isn't because the work turned bad, this has always been the case.

The only places where mostly sex workers would be working in the day time, back then and now, are in the narrow alleys. But unfortunately those are the windows the city mainly has closed down in the past decade. While those windows where the most popular with sex workers, because customers in the day time feel more comfortable in a small narrow alley, compared to a big open canal where everybody sees you going inside. These narrow alleys are the best workplaces, because it offers customers a little more discretion compared to the main canal for example. So yes, there are less sex workers working in the Red Light District in the day time compared to 10 years ago. But this has nothing to do with the work being good or bad, but is simply because the best places got closed down, and the places nobody wants to work in are mostly what is left these days.

Then the narrative that before there where customers and now only tourists. An interesting narrative, since I've only ever worked with tourists in the past 9 years, just like most of the sex workers here. If you wanted to work with locals, the Red Light District was never the place to do this. Especially in the nighttime, like 99% of your clientele has always been tourists in the past 10 years in the Red Light District. For sex workers that work in the day time it's a different story, they work more with locals, and we can see how that worked out, most of the windows in the day time are empty. That alone should already say something about sex workers and tourism. After all, if sex workers hated tourists so much, and preferred more local customers. Then why do most sex workers work in the evening, when there are the most tourists? Wouldn't it make more sense that they're been working in the day time, when there are fewer tourists and the rent for the room is cheaper as well?

Yes, the income has dropped a lot. I remember when I came here 9 years ago, I was making a ton of money. But already back then colleagues that had been working here longer than I had, where complaining about how bad the work got. When I heard how much these girls where making before, I regretted I hadn't started working here years ago. In 2012 however the work got a little less. At first I thought it was something about myself. I thought it had something to do with my look, my costume or my hair. I got really depressed because I couldn't figure out why I wasn't making as much as I was before. In 2014 however the work got really bad, and not just for me, but for many girls. I realized the problem wasn't me, but it was the work. There where less people left on the street to work with, and the people that where still walking around had no money.

Every year since then the work got worse and worse, until last year, which was the worst year ever. Every girl is complaining about the work. But the problem isn't that it's too busy with too many tourists. No, quite the opposite. Late at night there's nobody left anymore on the street to work with. Look around at 3 AM in the morning, and see how many people are still left. There is a reason why so many girls these days go home earlier. Years ago most of the girls would stick around until the very last minute, because you still had people you could work with. But these days girls go home earlier, because the streets are empty.

The majority of the sex workers in the Red Light District don't think it's too busy with tourists, these tourists are actually most of our clientele. So why would we ever want to get rid of that? The reason we're not making money anymore is because in the last decade there are less people on the street, and the people that are left are all people that don't have money to come inside. The windows during the day time also where never full 10 years ago, they've always been empty mostly in the day time. But the best workplaces for sex workers in both the day and the night time have been closed down by the city itself. This whole narrative in the newspapers is just aimed at gaining support to move prostitution out of the Red Light District, something these people have already been working on for over a decade, but now have found a new excuse to use.

Funny enough their narrative isn't working out so well. The media recently also published a 'research' among people in Amsterdam that would support the notion that prostitution had to move out of the Red Light District. Fun fact is that this article got completely bashed on social media with people calling it fake news and blaming the 'import Amsterdammers' (people that aren't originally from Amsterdam) as the reason. There seemed to be full on support to keep the Red Light District as it is, in fact, the number of people that have responded negatively on this article have now even succeeded the number of people they did this research with.

But the most interesting thing perhaps is that there's something fishy going on with this research. One of the questions was for example how often people from Amsterdam come in the Red Light District. From this question they concluded that people from Amsterdam would avoid the Red Light District. But that's not how things work. After all, just because I don't come somewhere, doesn't mean I actively avoid it. And especially the Red Light District. Why would someone visit it if they're not looking for the thing you can find here? It's no surprise the research is nowhere to been found online. The OIS who conducted this research hasn't published it on their own website, and non of the media seem to be able to provide a link to this research. Funny enough this research was also led by someone from the PvdA, the same political party that wanted to get rid of prostitution from the Red Light District in the first place. Coincidence much?