Coming to Terms with Prostitution in Amsterdam

Prostitution in Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam to the smell of weed, the promise of girls in windows, and expectations of a rich culture that didn’t have to anything to do with the city’s two former tourist attractions. In fact, Amsterdam is quite a fascinating, beautiful city that made me feel accepted. If you don’t take part in the drugs and sex, you still have so much to see and do so don’t let the reputation discourage you from visiting Amsterdam.

Tourists and locals intermingle in the Red Light District where I found my hostel home for five days. The Red Light District is much larger than what you would expect. It is a whole area of the city beyond the few streets that are well known for prostitutes in windows under red lights and live sex shows. My nights in Amsterdam were the latest so far on my trip mainly because Matt (my boyfriend) and I were curious about experiencing the pulsating nightlife and sit at the canal’s edge while stuffing our faces with food. Inevitably the business of prostitution became something that I witnessed and pondered.

Do women willingly choose to be prostitutes? Are they forced into it by circumstance or other people?  Coming to terms with prostitution in Amsterdam.

Prostitution is something that most Americans aren’t comfortable with. I mean, it’s illegal back home in most places. I’ve wanted to learn about the issues surrounding the profession/potentially forced job and watched a documentary in the past to learn more about it. My interest mainly stems from my concern with women’s rights when it comes to this particular line of work. Do they willingly choose to be prostitutes? Are they forced into it by circumstance or other people? Can they have a life beyond prostitution? The questions seemed endless to me.

While in Amsterdam, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to any of the women who do this job but I did take the liberty to do some research on prostitution laws in Amsterdam. I feel like they are worth knowing because they can help put the situation in context for you before you walk along the streets and see your first scantily clad woman beckoning your boyfriend, friend, husband, or just some random stranger to come closer to the window.

According to Amsterdam.info, which contains details tourist information for the city, prostitution has been legal since 1830 and a law in 1980 barred people from taking profit from prostitution so that women could not be exploited doing this job. The site says that the law wasn’t really enforced so prostitutes weren’t well protected. In October 2000, a new law asserted the legality of the profession and set out regulations for the job. These regulations are supposed to protect minors, route out forced prostitution, and stop human trafficking. It’s nice to know that regulations are being put in place to help ensure that women aren’t being taken advantage of. As to the efficacy of these laws, I am unsure. But, at the very least, an effort is being made to go in the right direction in the legal sense.

Knowing the laws and the history is much different from going to the Red Light District and seeing the sex industry at work. To be quite honest, I was shocked when we happened upon that part of the city and in a way you probably wouldn’t expect. The place is a tourist destination in every sense of the word. Not only do you see what you would expect (men ogling the women in the windows), you also see large tour groups eagerly being lead through the area by their flag waving tour guides–not to mention the older couples walking through the area.

I wasn’t uncomfortable in the Red Light District. Maybe that’s because it is filled with so many tourists. Maybe it is because I have the ability to accept that the women are doing their jobs. Maybe it’s because I am still ignorant of the reality.

I expected to see old men looking for a lady but I didn’t expect them to bring their wives. The grandmas enthusiastically snap pictures of the area and point out the sites to their husbands. Matt and I had a lot of fun imagining what those grandparents might be saying to each other. “Oh, Dear! Look at that nice lady in the window there! She looks like she might be fun but I do worry if she is eating enough, poor thing.”

I wasn’t uncomfortable in the Red Light District. Maybe that’s because it is filled with so many tourists. Maybe it is because I have the ability to accept that the women are doing their jobs. Maybe it’s because I am still ignorant of the reality. I think Matt was more nervous about walking through the area than I was probably because he didn’t know how I would react towards the situation or him.

In the end, I just see it as life in Amsterdam. That’s not to say that I don’t worry about the rights of these women and their situations in reality. What the law dictates is often much different from how life goes. I wish I had the opportunity to learn more while I was there but it seems it will be a research project for another time.

What I would suggest to women visiting Amsterdam would be to decide whether or not you can stomach the site beforehand. I understand that it can be an offensive situation but I think it is also important to put it into perspective of the culture of the city as a whole. I didn’t once feel judged in Amsterdam. The city feels welcoming and accepting of all walks of life. In many ways I feel like Amsterdam has a healthier grasp on how humans act whether or not laws are in place to govern their actions. The city allows people to make decisions for themselves. I sincerely hope that right is also extended and utilized by the women working in the Red Light District.

Coming to Terms with Prostitution in Amsterdam.

Coming to Terms with Prostitution in Amsterdam

About Monique Wilkins

Monique WilkinsA graduate of Georgetown University and Syracuse University, Monique Wilkins is working on the formation of her non-student identity starting with the backpacking adventure of her dreams. Monique is also an explorer of literature, food, and photography. Follow her on Twitter at @RavenousWander.

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