Has Amsterdam had enough of its breezy reputation? It may be famous for its in-your-face window prostitution, but the city has just voted to place tighter controls on its brothels. From this summer onwards, Amsterdam’s legal age for prostitution will rise from 18 to 21, and brothels will be forced to remain closed between four and nine in the morning. Prostitutes will have to pass language tests and have shorter shifts, while brothel keepers will be obliged to produce business plans demonstrating how they will protect their workers’ health and safety.
Seen from a country where prostitution is largely banned, these changes might seem laughably modest. They’re carefully targeted nonetheless. Younger women are most likely to fall victim to human traffickers, while those that don’t speak any Dutch or English find it much harder to contact police or social workers in cases of abuse. Meanwhile, early morning closure is planned because the time of day is seen as a problem period, with nobody else about in the streets to monitor or rein in bad behavior. Amsterdam’s city council considers the moves so vital that the city is going it alone, introducing laws that (while currently being debated) haven’t yet passed through the Dutch Parliament.
Amsterdam’s haste is understandable. It may be well policed and eye-poppingly unusual, but the city’s central red light district still feels like a place where women’s hopes go to die. Around 75 percent of the 5,000 to 8,000 prostitutes working in the city are from abroad, and many are believed to have been trafficked. Holland legalized prostitution in 2000 as a way of stopping exploitation, but evidence suggests that more women than ever are being forced into brothels against their will. A study from the London School of Economics published this winter found that in countries where selling sex was decriminalized, human trafficking has increased. While the number of women entering prostitution voluntarily grows under legalization, demand grows yet further, creating a shortfall filled by women trafficked and run by pimps.
I have read several articles that say that it also just raises the bar when it comes to kink. Instead of going to the red light district, men want the increased thrill of using women outside the red light district. The red light district solves (or tries to solve) some problems while creating new ones.