The city wants to create an "amazing public space" in the center of Amsterdam for "sex workers and other citizens," according to Amsterdam City Hall. It says that the city is confronted with "rising numbers of sexual offenses" which includes not only rape, but also sexual harassment and sexually motivated harassment. The city has already taken action in recent years to close down a number of massage parlors which were allegedly sexually exploiting their female employees.
The new city plan, which has sparked a major backlash, will affect an area of about 100 square meters in front of the red light district's area. Authorities will change the traffic routes to prevent sex workers from blocking off the district to customers and will also ban sexually oriented stores from setting up shop in the area. This is where Amsterdam will place its new, more "symbolic" district.
The Dutch city of Amsterdam has come under fire for planning to close down its notorious red light district in the capital to a "pleasure district" for sex workers. But while critics might be horrified, the city says it needs to stop sex trafficking and that the new district will be safer for sex workers.
Critics of the plan, which is estimated to cost around 8.5 million euros (US$12.7 million), say it's nothing more than "poverty tourism" and that the city has not taken any measures to stop sex trafficking. In fact, Amsterdam police officials say they have noticed a drop in the numbers of sex trafficking cases in the area since the city enacted its "red light" regulations. The city now says it will provide sex workers with "better services," which the mayor claims will actually help prevent the trafficking of women.
"When you compare Amsterdam to other cities, the fact that sex trafficking is a problem is no longer true," said Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan in a statement. "That does not mean that there is no trafficking in Amsterdam. But we are much better positioned to deal with that."
The city argues that although its new legislation will mean the end of an established Dutch tradition, it will also take a major step to end sex trafficking.
Researchers who studied sex workers in the red light district claim they've found alarming new evidence of the prevalence of rape and sexual abuse, and say that female sex workers are particularly vulnerable. One local sex worker, Ineke Mol, said, "We feel betrayed. Why have they chosen a so-called voluntary move when, for years, they have been fighting for more rights and the right to work?"
The plan has drawn protest from sex workers, who argue that it's unfair to expect them to be relocated to an industrial estate while thousands of sex workers remain on the streets of Amsterdam. Elsewhere, the UK has seen similar disputes over what's known as the "Erotic Industrial Strategy." There, sex workers were being pushed off their land into dangerous flats. Some even accused the city of recruiting sex workers to the move as a means of harassing and intimidating them. That plan was ultimately dropped.
However, what's going on in Amsterdam might help to change that by putting pressure on Dutch authorities to change their attitude towards the sex industry. In May, Dutch officials claimed that the plan would have "major benefits" for local businesses. Meanwhile, Amsterdam's police chief claims that the city needs to stop criminalizing sex work in order to take the pressure off prostitutes.
"We will allow the establishment of a safe zone, because it gives the prostitutes the chance to work without being exposed to discrimination," Christian Hoogerbeets said. However, he admitted that "even there, some prostitutes will not choose it, but in most cases, it would give the women the opportunity to work, and I personally would be more positive about that."
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