Why street walkers are getting the boot

9th December 2003, Comments 0 comments

Once the undisputed masters of vice for tolerating paid sex and soft drugs, the Dutch title has been severly tarnished by Amsterdam's decision to close its official street prostitution zone. Subsequent vocal protests by the sex industry have fai

An estimated 25,000 prostitutes are currently tolerated as they ply their trade on the street or parade themselves, scantily-clad, in the windows of red light districts in many Dutch cities. 

A punter moves in...

But the Dutch capital embarked on a major turnaround in November 2003, ending an experiment in tolerated street prostitution. Chronic organised crime problems and the illegal trade of women eventually led to the undoing of the bold social gamble.

Amsterdam City Council voted in favour of closing the city's "tippel" or street prostitution zone —  which was set up in the Westelijk Havengebied in 1996 — in December 2003 and has warned police to be on the alert should the sex industry crop up elsewhere.

Angered by what she called "prudishness," Italian porn star and politician La Cicciolina demonstrated outside government buildings in The Hague late November. She warned that  tightening laws were turning Amsterdam - the "sex capital of Europe" - into a boring city.

Together with a handful of other protestors, La Cicciolina strutted in high stilettos and a long fur coat around the statue of Willem van Oranje near the Binnenhof complex where the Dutch Parliament meets.

But Amsterdam is not turning its back on sex completely. The city's Red Light District of bars and whores will stay, and in fact, the city council voted in February 2003 against banning the sale of sex between 3-6am. Supporters of the proposed ban claimed it would reduce crime and disturbances cause by public drunkenness in a city district which attracts three million tourists every year.

It was decided, however, that Amsterdam and window sex go hand-in-hand, but when it came to street prostitution, the council said it no longer wished to operate an area where women continually fell victim to human traffickers.

The executive council — made up the mayor and aldermen and women — decided in October 2003 to close the street prostitution zone. But an official 15 December closure date was not obtained until the full council gave its assent on 19 November.

Mayor Job Cohen said the situation was a "devils dilemma" because it "appeared impossible to create a safe and controllable zone for women that was not open to abuse by organised crime". But he also said uncontrollable street prostitution could spread again across the city.

Ironically, it was this spread that led to the creation of the zone, an area where women addicted to drugs could work safely as prostitutes without causing a public nuisance.

Police patrolled the area, medical services and social work were offered to the sex workers and private, screened areas were set up for the nitty gritty. A fence surrounded the zone and prostitutes said they felt safe working there.

But the target group of women was hardly seen. Instead, illegal immigrants were the main attraction and it attracted Eastern European crime gangs.

Despite this, Cohen fought against the zone's closure, winning a temporary reprieve in a bid to clean the area up with a stronger police presence. An evaluation in six months time would determine whether the renewed effort was bearing fruit.

A subsequent investigation by research bureau DSP indicated the number of prostitutes in the zone had declined from 130 to 50 per night. But it also revealed a large majority of the remaining street walkers were illegal immigrants.

DSP said public safety had improved, but conversely, the illegal trade in women had increased. And while the research bureau said prostitution did not appear to have spread, it did not rule out that some women had moved into the closed escort service sector.

The executive council decided therefore to close the expensive-to-operate zone. Ratification from the full council was a formality, given the fact that it had urged the zone's closure in December 2002, when it claimed that the situation had gotten out of co

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