Amsterdam cleans up its act
The famous red light district in Amsterdam is a haven for organised crime, according to the city council at least. Not so, say brothel owners who are resisting the capital's crackdown. Nicola Smith investigates further.
One third of the famous 'window' brothels and sex clubs of Amsterdam are facing closure after the city council recently refused to renew 33 licences in a crackdown against organised crime.
Famous as a social experiment, the red light district also has vocal critics
But the council edict could change the face of the area, removing the sight of scantily clad women beckoning custom in the glow of the street windows' neon lights.
City councillors say the clampdown is necessary to tackle suspected money laundering in some brothels. Some human rights groups claim the move also shows resolve to fight the trafficking of women and forced prostitution.
The accusations of links to organised crime have been shot down by the nine brothel owners set to lose their money-spinning businesses. The group is set to challenge the decision in a court case on 19 January.
Twenty of the buildings and 60 of the 'windows' are owned by "fat" Charlie Geerts, a big player in the porn industry and the red light district for decades.
Last week, his lawyer Han Jahae said previous investigations had proven Geerts had no links with criminal activities and that the council's information was both wrong and out of date.
"Basing such drastic action on information this old is totally unreasonable," he said.
Nevertheless, Geerts has since sold a fifth of his brothels and windows, selling three buildings with 13 rooms. The buyers were two brothers.
Geerts said the sale had been planned before Amsterdam's crackdown. "I simply want to enjoy old age," he said.
Meanwhile, the closures are also being fought by the prostitutes' union, "Red Thread", which says women could be forced onto the streets if the windows are shut down.
Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute who now runs the Prostitution Information Centre, said the crackdown would hurt the women who worked legally as independent contractors renting space in the windows.
"There are lots of benefits from working in a window brothel," she says. "It is a thousand times better than being in an illegal brothel or working in dangerous circumstances on the street."
"People do not take the profession seriously. It is a mistake of the local government to automatically think it is rescuing the girls," she argued.
Others, like porn film producer Hans Burger, have complained Mayor Job Cohen is making a mistake that will "ruin" the city's booming tourist industry.
By some estimates, a third of all tourists in Amsterdam visit the red light district, although most just pop by for a curious look.
The city's deputy mayor, Lodewijk Asscher, denied the accusation. "Amsterdam is very popular with tourists because it is an exciting and liberal city. It's much broader than just window prostitution," he says.
Asscher stressed the council wanted to target crime rather than prostitution itself. He remains "very worried" by the number of cases of trafficking in women.
A number are believed to be linked to the window brothels even though these became legal in the Netherlands in 2000.
"If we legalise prostitution then we have an obligation to fight money-laundering and the trafficking of women," Asscher argues. "If we don't protect the women then it's not really tolerance, but indifference."
Fear of crime — last year saw 15 gangland killings in Amsterdam — appears to be changing traditional liberal Dutch attitudes towards prostitution.
The Christian Democrat CDA and the ChristenUnie (CU) parties — both of which are expected to form part of the new governing coalition — want even tougher measures, including the prosecution of men who frequent prostitutes who are working against their will.
The CU's advisor on justice policy, Jakob Pot, said his party's position reflected changing attitudes in the Netherlands. "I think more people today than a few years ago see that prostitution is abnormal, whatever legalisation of brothels suggests," he says.
But others, such as Petra Timmermans from the International Committee on the rights of Sex Workers in Europe, said the Dutch were experiencing outside pressure from countries that did not understand their traditions.
"The Netherlands has decided to do things differently so it is under tremendous pressure from neighbouring countries to re-evaluate its position," she said.
"People look at the Netherlands and say it is a failed experiment because not every sex worker is a millionairess."
10 January 2007
[Copyright Expatica 2007]