Amsterdam's red light district

Amsterdam’s first woman mayor, Femke Halsema, issued a public proposal yesterday to overhaul the city’s ancient red-light district. Her suggested changes would constitute the most radical revamp of the capital city’s infamous sex trade since the Dutch legalized prostitution nearly two decades ago.

One major concern stems from increased tourism to the area, and the use of camera phones and social media, resulting in pictures of red-light workers being spread online without their knowledge or consent.

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“We’re forced by circumstances because Amsterdam changes,” said Halsema in a Reuters interview prior to presenting her proposal. “I think a lot of the women who work there feel humiliated, laughed at—and that’s one of the reasons we are thinking about changing,”

The mayor stated that the proposed changes are intended to protect the rights of Amsterdam’s sex workers, reduce crime and cut down on nuisances for local businesses and residents.

Drawn up in a report entitled “The Future of Window Prostitution in Amsterdam”, four main motions are now under consideration: ending street window displays altogether, stepping up the licensing of window workers, reducing the number of city-center brothels, or perhaps closing them down altogether and moving them elsewhere. This broader scenario suggests the creation of an “erotic city zone”, similar to a system currently used Hamburg, Germany, which would have a clear entrance gate and be better regulated.

With the proposal to shut down the sex trade in this centuries-old area and move it to a new venue, the city also hopes to be able to revive the 500-year-old neighborhood, which, along with Amsterdam’s canals, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Officials have already been seeking ways to clean up this historic part of the city—which, in recent years, has become a noisy, overcrowded tourist trap—thus far with very limited success.

The proposed red-light district changes are slated for discussion with residents and businesses at two town hall meetings later this month. Then, in September, the city council will narrow down the options before putting them to a vote.