- Amsterdam officials have been working to rebrand the city’s iconic red light district.
- Sex workers can no longer offer services from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., which they say makes them less safe.
- The changes, including a proposed central “erotic center” have spurred protests from sex workers.
Just ten days after changes to Amsterdam’s iconic red light district took effect, impacted sex workers — now facing reduced working hours, higher rent, and riskier work — say the city’s measures to protect them have made them less safe.
“We’ve seen quite some dramatic changes,” Phoebe, a sex worker and coordinator for the district’s Prostitution Information Center, told Insider. “I think a lot of us were expecting to maybe not see an impact for a couple of weeks, or maybe months, but from the first night, there’s been some quite dramatic changes.”
The famous De Wallen sex tourism district, one of several neighborhoods known for rows of windows filled with workers offering erotic services — including prostitution — has been at the center of citywide debate for several years. Politicians, including Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema, argue the district attracts criminals and hard-partying tourists who brawl, trash the streets, and harass workers, prompting city officials to take action to re-brand the district.
In a change that took effect April 1, window operators, who rent space to sex workers to operate within their businesses, are not allowed to be open for business between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Phoebe told Insider that, in addition to having less time to be allowed to work, the restrictions quickly made rent for window space skyrocket due to increased demand for more limited space, and leaves fewer, more dangerous transit options for workers leaving in the early morning hours.
“If you’re a sex worker working in a cash-based income, then you’re carrying around a lot of cash at that time, so it doesn’t take a very smart criminal or street mugger to know that that’s a good time to be hanging around,” Phoebe told Insider, saying the shorter hours are driving workers to take clients to their homes or other, less safe locations to work.
With a 6 a.m. close time, she said, local businesses and supermarkets are beginning to operate for the day, and public transit is more readily available, making night-shift sex workers safer as they return home in the morning.
Halsema is also aiming to eventually close down the district and instead open a centralized, multi-story “erotic center,” creating a marketplace of sexual services that are off the main streets.
“I hope it’s possible to create an erotic center that has some class and distinction and isn’t a place where only petty criminals and the most vulnerable women gather,” The Guardian reported Halsema said about the project.
She added: “But I also realize there is a long road ahead of us because most people associate sex work with crime and with the vulnerability of women, with human rights being violated. So in most neighborhoods, most people are not very enthusiastic about the erotic center.”
But sex workers aren’t very enthusiastic about the center in the first place — or any of Halsema’s changes.
Before the time restriction took effect, hundreds of protesters took to the streets, France24 reported, arguing that the mayor’s actions relied on stereotypes about sex workers needing to be rescued and the changes don’t actually prioritize their needs.
“We really don’t agree with the solutions that they are offering, that they’re imposing. They’re not even negotiating with the sex workers’ organizations,” France24 reported sex worker Sabrina Sanchez said at the protests.
“We don’t want to be moved, not to an erotic center or anywhere else,” another sex worker wearing a hood and sunglasses to remain anonymous told the outlet, adding: “Do something about the drug traffickers, do something about those who behave disrespectfully!”
Representatives for the City of Amsterdam did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Phoebe told Insider that the sex workers protesting the changes have been told they’re difficult to work with because they’re unwilling to compromise, but said the compromises proposed by the city require sex workers to sacrifice their safety, their income, and their perception by society.
“It’s difficult to compromise with people who are either asking you to compromise in such a way that it damages your well-being and your safety, or they’re not willing to compromise with you at all unless you agree with what they’re saying,” Phoebe told Insider. “And that, to me, is not compromise.”