My Red Light Experience in Amsterdam

My Red Light Experience in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is famous for many things: beautiful canals, bridges for days and adorable houses that look like they belong on Christmas cards. But let’s be honest; its reputation rests on its drug culture and the sex work of the Red Light District. ‘Coffee shop’ means a dispensary, and windows are places where young women stand in nearly nothing, displaying themselves for potential customers.

As I walked through the city of Amsterdam, I was enamored with the beauty that I saw around me and I was eager to learn more about it. I walked through Vondelpark and ate space cake with my tea at a ‘coffee shop’. The people were quite friendly and open. It seemed to be a relaxed place and I was enjoying my day of beautiful weather and unique culture.

The bar I found restored my faith in Amsterdam. The owner was Turkish, the bartender was French and the patrons were from all corners of the globe.

Then, I found myself on a narrow street among a large crowd of people. I had accidentally walked into a touristy part of the city. I couldn’t find my way to where I wanted to go, so I decided to follow the crowds. I began to notice rows of large, empty windows around me. At first I assumed these were businesses that were closed for the season. But then I started to see beautiful young women in lingerie standing in the windows. I was near tears as I saw tourists taking photos of these women, as though their bodies had not been exploited enough already.

Since the legalization of prostitution in 2000, many in Amsterdam have claimed that there are benefits of this system for the sex worker. Some have claimed that legalization has made the women safer. Others argued that legalization would limit trafficking, but trafficking has been on the rise since the law’s inception. In reality, pimps still need to be paid. Essentially, the legalization of prostitution has simply emboldened those profiting the most, who feel that they can continue their practices without any consequences.

If you tour the Red Light District, guides will tell you that Amsterdam’s brothels are a model for the world to follow. What I think is that treating human beings like pieces of meat will never bring anything but shame and pain to a society. If you happen to wander into the neighborhood, don’t be fooled by the smiles on the faces of the women. How can we tell that the women don’t really hate their jobs?

I started to see beautiful young women in lingerie standing in the windows. I was near tears as I saw tourists taking photos of these women, as though their bodies had not been exploited enough already.

Many outsiders consider the Red Light District of Amsterdam to be representative of the city’s free-spirited culture. In reality, it was the antithesis of the kindness and open heartedness that I had encountered throughout my time in the city. I fell in love with Amsterdam, but the sex tourism diluted the attraction somewhat.

Luckily, the bar I had been looking for when I stumbled into the Red Light District restored my faith in Amsterdam. The owner was Turkish, the bartender was French and the patrons were from all corners of the globe. A soccer game was playing on the television, and a group of men from Barcelona bought a round of beers for the entire bar. The game was heated, yet the viewers were having more fun than I had expected given that the teams were both German,  the one country not represented in the bar. The owner set out trays of falafel and hummus free of charge, and we drank, ate and had a fantastic time.

About Nardos Alemayehu

Nardos AlemayehuI have been a freelance marketing consultant, social media manager and journalist for six years. I am an Atlantic Initiative Fellow with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. Being raised in Kenya as a first generation American born of Ethiopian parents I tend to look at the world in a different way.

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