The stolen lives behind Amsterdam’s multibillion ‘red-light district’.
A woman recently went missing while taking her dog out for an evening walk during a holiday in Holland. It is rumoured she may have been abducted by human traffickers whilst exercising her Chihuahua at sunset.
It later transpired that this apparently outlandish incident had more to do with the woman’s own unwitting failure to respect the social mores of a foreign culture: her family was advised that the summery manner of dress, including a pair of skimpy shorts revealing her toned and beautiful legs, might have led to her being perceived as advertising her ‘assets’, especially since she was in a street within the Amsterdam’s “red- light district” at the time.
The message from this seems simple: to avoid this type of inadvertent misadventure, it is always best to be well informed about local customs and social etiquettes. One can always come across such districts abroad, and even in countries where prostitution is forbidden, there still tend to be certain urban locales where sex-orientated businesses are thriving.
The Cambridge Dictionary Online defines a ‘red-light district’ as ‘a part of a city where people and businesses sell sex’.
Most typically found in larger cities, red-light districts hold a seedy allure in the popular imagination. The phrase itself originates from all sources, the Bible, in which Rahba, a prostitute in Jericho, helped Joshua’s spies by guiding them to an Inn using a red-light, which enabled the Israelites to capture the city.
The depiction of the ‘prostitute’ has been tackled in various forms in literature throughout the last couple of centuries: from Charles Dickens’ Nancy in Oliver Twist; through Thomas Hardy’s “fallen woman” (referring to a woman whose sexual experience, particularly if outside wedlock, has made her a social outcast); to a distinctly more modern meaning leant the term in the Sixties by the French poet and singer Georges Brassens who, not far from being an apologist for prostitution, coined prostitutes “women of the night” and argued they should be entitled to rights, dignity and respect. Brassens defined them prostitutes as: “The seventh heaven good-time girls whose wedding is never for them”.
Travelling further back in time, we come to the British medical writer William Acton (1818-1875), well known for his book on masturbation entitled Prostitution Considered in its moral Social and Sanitary aspect (Cass Library of Victorian Times). Acton’s definition of a prostitute was one which arguably remains the most perennial and poetic: “A prostitute is a woman who gives for money that which she ought to give only for love”.
De Wallen Amsterdam-Netherlands
De Wallen is the oldest part of Amsterdam, an area the more prudish equate with a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, associated terms of reference describing it as “a place of exceeding sin”. It is believed by some that Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t really destroyed, but merely relocated, to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, is renowned for accommodating the most notorious red-light district in the world. As an historical dockland city, it has a deep-rooted, centuries-old tradition of sex trade.
Licensed and controlled by the Dutch government, prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 1830. A new law introduced in October 2000 made prostitution subject to municipal regulations about the location, organisation and practice of the ‘business’.
The Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation for The Netherlands quotes from an article by one Jenifer Chao “Dutch Prostitute May soon be Taxed,” published on 4 October 1997 in Associated Press:
“Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and has been defined as a form of work. 18 is the minimum age to work in the sex industry”.
Throughout the centuries, Amsterdam’s most celebrated attraction has been its nightlife, as memorised in books, films, and songs, such as French-Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel’s chart-topping record, ‘In the Port of Amsterdam’, the lyrics to which include:
“The sailor drinks to the health of the whores of Amsterdam/ Who have promised their love to a thousand other men/ They’ve bargained their bodies and their virtue long gone/ For a few dirty coins… For an unfaithful love/ In the port of Amsterdam.”
The French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique has also reported on The Factbook of Global Sexual Exploitation for The Netherlands, noting it claims there are 350 officially listed brothels in Amsterdam.
Meanwhile, Licia Brussa of Trans-national AIDS/STD Prevention Among Migrant Prostitutes in Europe (TAMPEP), has written in the Netherlands’ Factbook:
“Most of the prostituted women in shop windows in the Netherlands are migrants from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Ghana, Benin, Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. …Prostituted women in shop windows in the Netherlands pay rent for the windows, about 150 florins (US$ 90) a day. The woman waits for male buyers in a room with a window that looks onto the street. The room contains the bed where she has sex and also lives and sleeps. In some establishments two women share a kitchen, a room for eating, a bathroom and toilet. In others, up to four women may use the same window room; share a single toilet, an improvised shower and no kitchen. In some cases, the women receive one towel and two sheets for use throughout the week. On the average, the women work between 12 and 17 hours a day, receiving from 10 to 24 clients, at a usual charge of 50 florins for 15 minutes sessions.”
In Amsterdam, there are sex museums, cannabis museums, sex theatres, and sex shops of all kinds displaying everything from the more ordinary to the most bizarre erotic items. Even coffee shops sell marijuana. But above all, there are women of all colours, shapes and sizes to satisfy any and every curiosity or fantasy.