Turning tricks for less: Crisis hits Amsterdam's red-light district

Turning tricks for less: Crisis hits Amsterdam's red-light district

5th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

As the credit crunch keeps away tourists and business travellers, the owners of brothels, escort agencies and sex shops are grumbling that those visitors who still do indulge in the pleasures of the flesh are increasingly tight-fisted.

Eva, a 25-year-old prostitute in Amsterdam's red-light district, gestures angrily in the direction of a rival who has slashed her rates as the economic crisis emboldens sex tourists to haggle. 
 
"People like her make it very difficult for the rest of us," scowled the leggy, blonde Estonian in skimpy black-and-white lingerie, posing seductively for men passing the window in which she flaunts her talents. "Some of the girls are now doing it for 30 euros. My price is still 50 euros but the men are playing us off against each other: Some want to pay only 20 euros.”
 
Eva is not the only one complaining.
 
As the credit crunch keeps away tourists and business travellers, the owners of brothels, escort agencies and sex shops are grumbling that those visitors who still do indulge in the pleasures of the flesh are increasingly tight-fisted.
 
"Things are bad," lamented salesman Dave Doeve, who owns Casa Rosso sex shop in the middle of Amsterdam's brazen red-light district where neon-lit prostitutes' windows normally draw hordes of tourists. "There are no people, as you can see. And those who come buy small things, condoms ... cheap things."

AFP PHOTO/ANOEK DE GROOT
Clients and tourists walk around Amsterdam's red-light district where prostitutes are exposed in shop windows

Market depressed

Brothel owner Willy van der Sloot, herself a former prostitute, said she had never seen the sex market so depressed.

"Some days there are just no people," she sighed.

Twenty-six-year-old Oxana, who shares Eva's window, says her income has halved in six months while her window rent went up 25 percent in January. On a "good day," she sees six clients but sometimes only one -- and 50 euros per visitor not enough to cover her half of the 150-euro daily rent.

"But I can't do it for 20 or 30 euros like some of the others,” she said. “That is not money."

Escort club owner Hugo Snoep says that "things have never been this bad" in his 16 years in the business: "Me and the girls are battling to keep our heads above water."

Increasingly stingy

Between taking calls from clients, offering them a special price of 160 euros per girl per hour -- down from the usual 175 euros, Snoep said the economic crisis had made a deep dent in his biggest client base -- travelling businessman.

 
"Before, they had big expense accounts from which they could subtract their 'meals' and the like,” he said. “Nowadays, their bosses are not so generous. We are all in the same economic boat.”

"Where I used to send out 12 to 14 girls a day, now I am down to just three some days," he added.

According to Andre van Dorst, director of the Netherlands' VER sex industry association, turnover has dropped 30 to 40 percent over the last year. And the more exclusive the club, the bigger the impact as clients seek cheaper options.

"Eating and drinking are the very last things people save on, followed by sex -- both are basic needs,” said Dorst. “In these difficult economic times, people frequent restaurants less and supermarkets more, just as they opt for less glamorous sex clubs."

Metje Blaak, spokeswoman for De Rode Draad (The Red Thread) sex workers' association, said clients were "paying less and demanding more."

"And the girls often have no choice but to discount their prices,” he said. “They have to pay the rent."

Clamping down

Though prostitution has long been tolerated in the famously liberal Dutch capital city, the Netherlands only legalised the world's oldest profession in 2000.

AFP PHOTO/ANOEK DE GROOT
A German prostitute, called Eve, waiting for clients behind her window in Amsterdam's red-light district

Last December, Amsterdam's city officials announced plans to halve the 482 prostitutes' windows in the centre in a multi-million revamp that would also involve shuttering many cannabis-vending coffee shops -- another tourist draw.

Officials claim the two vices, in themselves not illegal, attract elements of organised crime -- but observers have pointed to a growing Dutch conservatism.

Blaak warned that these changes, coupled with the economic recession, is forcing the industry underground as sex workers struggle to make ends meet: They are abandoning the regulated environment to avoid having to pay window rent and the 35 percent income tax.

"You are already seeing more women walking the streets," said Blaak. "The economic crisis is changing the character of the industry. Previously, the women were in charge -- now it is the men who call the shots."

AFP/ Mariette le Roux / Expatica

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