Wednesday 28 November 2012

Free to Under Threes: Amsterdam by Night

If Paris is beige Amsterdam is red, brick red to be exact.  It’s a compact city, really quite charming in many ways, a city of museums and canals, the city of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. 

I was there a couple of years ago, walking everywhere because it’s possible to walk everywhere, all the attractions being within a reasonably close distance of one another.  It was pleasant to give way to the city’s easy charm, at least by day, because it is charming by day.  The night is different; the night is darker; the night is a deeper shade of red. 

We stayed in the Grand, once a medieval convent and then the city hall and now a hotel.  It’s a step or two from Dam Square, right in the centre of the city.  It’s also a step or two from the Red Light district, another tone altogether.  

Is there anything quite as sad as desire?  Is there anything as sad as women for rent and the men who are drawn to them?  I hate clichés.  I really do not want to say that the prostitutes appear in a state of undress like slabs of meat in a butcher’s window, but that’s exactly how they seemed to me.  It was one of the most depressing things I have ever seen. 

Amsterdam's legalised window brothels have been in existence for over ten years now.  It’s such a part of the city scene that groups of tourists - not potential clients - are taken on walking tours to see the sights.  Thomas Cook, the company originally founded to promote ‘ethical and educational’ tourism, has since 2005 led excursion through the area, delightful jaunts advertised as “free to children under three.”

Personally I found walking through the area really quite threatening in the dark.  I’m glad I was not alone.  It’s difficult to pinpoint but I just felt a general air of menace, not helped by the groups of men of Eastern European and Middle Eastern appearance milling around by the canal bridges.

It was all meant to be different; it was meant to divorce prostitution from pimps.  It hasn’t.  The whole thing has been a failure.  Rather than discouraging criminality it has allowed it to flourish under an uncomprehending official eye.  Now the councillors of De Wallen, the district where most of the brothels are located, worried about the community’s reputation, have decided on a cleanup. 

The problem is the loverboys, not the sad cases who come for sad sex, but the traffickers, mostly of Asian descent, who lure women into prostitution and then keep them there, locked in emotionally and financially if not physically.  According to an article I read in the October issue of the political journal Standpoint (Window brothels get the red light), their victims are put to work in windows so that they can be kept under constant watch, surveyed by tourists, ogled by punters, monitored by pimps. 

Migration from outside Europe has made the problem worse.  A large number of these women have been trafficked illegally to begin with.  Once caught in the game they have no choice but to play the game. Reporting abuse to the authorities might easily result in eventual deportation. 

I use the word ‘pimp’ but officially there are no ‘pimps.’  After all, the whole sordid business is just a business.  Instead of pimps there are ‘managers’ or ‘facilitators.’  I expect it was the ‘managers’ and ‘facilitators’ I saw in friendly groups by night, one of whom attempted to accost me.  As I say, I’m glad I was not alone. 

“People are starting to hear that our system has a lot of crime and violence against the working girls linked to it”, said one of the beat policemen in the area, “The trafficking problem and the Turkish loverboys, they are all coming to the surface now.  Really we have allowed it by being too adventurous with allowing prostitution to be such an attraction in our city.” 

Here is a case where Liberality has had exactly the same effect as Prohibition: in tackling one set of problems it has engendered others, worse in ever degree.  Human trafficking, drug trafficking and money laundering are all in place.  I bet that’s something not touched upon on the delightful meat tours, free to under threes.

The boy has put his finger in the dyke.  To prevent a continuing flood of filth The Prostitution Framework Act will come into force in the New Year.  This includes a requirement that all of the working girls register with the authorities.  It also raises the minimum age for prostitution from eighteen to twenty-one.  Will it work?  It seems doubtful.  It seems more likely that the underage girls and the illegal immigrants will sink ever deeper into the dark of the Amsterdam night, shepherded away by the loverboys to even sadder levels of degradation.  


  1. Prostitution is necessary, even that many people did not think like this, order is better than anything, although can be illegal traffic is a way to put order too, an effort to combat illegality , dont be inocente, many women wants it and many men too, is part of human behavior, although need to fight abuse and Human trafficking, drug trafficking and money laundering, really i am interesting to see it, maybe i can change my mind, but i think Amsterdam give order, liberality can be good sometimes, but i dont like excess, maybe it is the problem, need balance. Good post Ana, good to can put a message even that we always think a little different. Greetings!

    1. Mario, we always have had prostitution; we always will have prostitution. I don't want you to think I'm against some form of legalisation. I most certainly am opposed to the persecution of the women who, for whatever reason, get drawn into the sex trade. But the Amsterdam example must serve as a warning that legalisation is not an end in itself, that it somehow divorces the trade from criminality. Clearly it does not.

  2. You might be interested in this thought-provoking video of prostitutes dancing in the windown in Amsterdam posted by Gemma Ruth Wilson, who campaigns against people-trafficking. Therer's a real scorpion's sting in the tail.

    1. Joe, I shall watch that with interest. If I have any further comment I'll post here.

  3. I am a great believer in criminalising as little as possible. I am in favour of decriminalising drugs and prostitution as I believe prohibition does more harm than good and encourages criminal activity and wastes resources on fighting that which it cannot hope to defeat. However your article has me concerned as one of the reasons I have for decriminalising is that it would reduce crime considerably. No doubt legal prostitution has reduced crime somewhat but not by enough. I do believe though that legalising prostitution and drugs will in the end with the proper will and using a fraction of the resources employed in combating the illegal use of them drive out most of the criminal element. On top of which properly controlled can be an enormous benefit to revenues of national treasuries.

    1. Antisthenes, I refer you to my comment to Mario above. I think the Amsterdam is example shows that there is a wrong way to go about the whole thing. My view is more or less the same as yours. After all, I'm a libertarian. But clearly one has to proceed with caution.

  4. Swiss Fix:

  5. "On top of which properly controlled can be an enormous benefit to revenues of national treasuries"

    "Elevating" the state to being pimps and dealers ?
    Although there are many who would say they are already !
    You won't stop crime anyway, even the most severe penalties do not stop crime, and especially sex crime.
    Under age sex is illegal in most places, but still exists, and increases.
    Scratch the surface of any area of legalised sex, and illegal sex is not far away.
    The solution is to either tolerate all forms of sex-for-sale, which is clearly impossible and undesirable, or police it strictly.
    Neither is desirable, but one will have to be chosen.

    1. John, I would hope - piously, perhaps - that both might be possible: a certain amount of toleration with a certain amount of - incorruptible -policing.

  6. Somehow I got across your blog after I followed a link on facebook to a book review where you commented brilliantly on the EU. Your description of the Red Light district is somewhat less brilliant, I'm sorry to say.

    I'm from the Netherlands (excuse my English) and problems with the misuse of woman are sometimes in the newspapers. The situation is improving because brothels owned by the "underworld" are closed down, and the girls receive a weekly medical check, and are also registered by the tax office, meaning that there is a lot of monitoring. Quite an improvement compared to most other countries.

    I got the impression that you are morally shocked by the "sad sex", which really is sex without love. That's quite funny to hear from a succubus ;-) Of course it is a bit sad. One wishes that everyone should enjoy a healthy relation, including passionate love. I'm happy to have a great girlfriend. Setting such a standard, however, does not mean the choice should be between "all or nothing". Also the girls are not always so sad... Once there was an interview in the students' journal of the medical school (university) with a few girls who prostituted themselves for good money, occasional sex, and adventure. Admitted, they were in the higher-class escort, which is a different environment to work.

    The sad sex not always originates from sadness; often it is just male lust and bravoure. A few years ago a story ran in the newspapers about the huge amount of boys and men from England (I'm sorry, but really it's mostly the English) who were visiting Amsterdam. Their manners caused the prositutes to complain. Respect for prositutes should really be the starting point; don't label them as "sad" (don't judge) but enable them to be free and independent individuals. That is much more likely to strengthen them.

    1. Evert, do not be sorry for saying what you have to say and do not make excuses for your English, which is excellent!

      Yes, I know that there have been some attempts in advance of the New Year legislation to bring stricter forms of control to bear, though this seems to have had little effect on the growth of the 'loverboys.'

      I'm not shocked by sad sex - it takes a lot to shock me - just saddened, saddened by the clinical and unloving nature of aspects of male desire. Succubus sex is far more joyful, a little touch of a demon in the night!

      You have no need also to apologise about the bad behaviour of the English abroad. I was in Amsterdam over a couple of weekends and I saw just how loutish some of my countrymen can be. But I knew this already. Boors at home are even more boorish abroad. It made me feel even sorrier for the girls having to deal with sad cases like this. I certainly don't label the girls themselves as sad, just the fate of many of them.

    2. Excellent reply, thanks for clarifying your point of view for me. I agree with your view. The interesting thing is -- why are men paying for mechanical sex? Maybe it's because they are (more often) aroused by visuals, less by feelings. But succubus sex, hm, sounds rather mysterious and enjoyable. I also like the image of Freya, the warrior fertility goddess.

    3. Well, yes, that's absolutely right: women, in the main, are much more emotionally involved in sex, whereas for many men, not all, it's purely a physical act. Is there anything quite as sad as pornography?

      Freya is one of my avatars. :-)