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Monday 22 December  
Lodewijk Asscher
Klaas den Tek's picture
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Crusading against Amsterdam's Red Lights

Published on : 19 October 2011 - 1:17pm | By Klaas den Tek (photo; Puisney/Gemeente Amsterdam)
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Amsterdam’s red light district is not picturesque at all; it’s a hotbed of ruthless people trafficking. So says Lodewijk Asscher. For several years now, the young (37) Amsterdam alderman has been waging his own crusade against the world of abuse and exploitation he believes is concealed behind the prostitutes’ windows: “We have to abandon our romantic view of the red light district.”

For many tourists the red light district is a normal stop on their visit to Amsterdam, taking a look at the prostitutes posing in the windows to attract clients. For many visitors the red lights are a symbol of what is possible in the Netherlands, with its tolerant attitude to sex and drugs.


A legal business

The Dutch government decided to lift the ban on prostitution in 2000. The introduction of licencing was intended to improve the position of prostitutes. Giving them legal status was supposed to make them more independent. Legalisation has had the effect, however, of pushing illegal sex workers further into the clutches of unscrupulous pimps.


Hard line
Alderman Asscher is politically responsible for the red light district. He regularly makes comments regarded as ‘un-Dutch’. He believes it is a national misconception that prostitution belongs in the compass of freedom and tolerance. The problems, he says, are grossly underestimated:

“Hard-line criminal behaviour is what is happening behind those windows. Women subjected to extremes of exploitation. They have a non-existent debt they have to pay to a pimp by prostituting themselves. They are physically abused if they don’t work hard enough.”

In 2005, councillor Lodewijk Asscher published a book called Nieuw Amsterdam in which he argued for a policy of discouraging window prostitution and tackling exploitation of women in the city. He has now been an alderman for five years and is an influential politician, often seen as potentially the next leader of the Dutch Labour Party in parliament.

In his capacity as alderman, he has introduced a number of measures aimed at reducing window prostitution. Amsterdam has been buying up properties previously owned by the sex industry. In February this year more than 60 addresses lost their prostitution designations. The council is rezoning the whole area. In the future, brothels and coffeeshops will make way for cafes, restaurants and ‘ordinary’ shops.

Police in Amsterdam estimate that between 50 and 90 percent of window prostitutes are there against their will. This is also true of the legal brothels with a licence from the council. Asscher concedes that it’s an intractable problem.

“It’s very difficult to tackle effectively. Very frustrating for the police and the courts. The penalties are often minor. There is also an absence of public indignation. Recently we were dealing with a pimp who had used violent methods to force 110 women into work. The only sign of public anger was when the man escaped.”

Last chance
Over the next few weeks the Senate will be debating a new prostitution bill. Proposals include making the minimum age for registered prostitutes 21 instead of 18. Having sex with a prostitute living in the Netherlands illegally would become a criminal offence. It’s now or never, says Lodewijk Asscher. If it can’t be regulated, prostitution will have to be made illegal again.

“This is our last chance. Prostitution has been legal for ten years now. We have to clamp down hard on these abuses. In Sweden, a ban resulted in a reduction in people trafficking. After all, slavery was abolished a long time ago in the Netherlands.”



Anonymous 24 September 2013 - 11:19am

This is a fundamental problem when we talk about the sex industry. People don't understand that consent can be manufactured just because people are registered and out in the open doesn't mean they're not victims. The Sneep Case where over 100 victims were found in Dutch prostitution in open window prostitution is a case in point 

Aphrodite Phoenix 6 March 2012 - 12:59pm / USA

I totally agree with almost everything the new Netherlands bill would impose, but for God's sake don't make it the beginning of the criminalization of prostitution. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water, as so many other countries do.

Prostitution will never end, the demand for it will never end, no matter what you do, and the women who want to be the supply will always be there, supplying. Criminalize prostitution and you drive it underground; then the traffickers have a picnic, every day.

Olivia 16 May 2014 - 11:46am

You are right dear. What ever may the country or what may be their administration that is not matter but killing a baby is a crime. Babies are the most beautiful gift for parents and many couple have a sweet dream of a healthy and cute baby. They have no sense and can't explain their thoughts and emotions. All babies are depend on their parents; if parents start to do these type of activities think what will happen? These activities should be stooped. Baby care thoughts

cheap apartments in Amsterdam 3 March 2012 - 12:12pm / Netherland

I completely Agree with you!! and i really like you subject that you lift!!

S Egretto 5 March 2012 - 10:10pm

Hey, dude! Assuming that you are agreeing with my comment, thanks! This is a serious human rights issue. The women in the Amsterdam rdl are being systematically subjected to intolerance, prejudice and bullying from amoral government lowlifes. I wish I knew how to stop it.

S Egretto 3 March 2012 - 9:53am / UK

Any argument which uses a statistic ranging from 50% - 90% has to be dismissed out of hand as nonsense.

On an average Saturday night there is a working population of 125 women in an area about the size of a football pitch. It is an open, highly visible system. The women have identities and they are registered with the authorities. Further, the window population is very stable. The same women occupy the same windows for years at a time.

Asscher would have people believe that on any Saturday night there are between 62.5 (50%) and 112.5 (90%) women who have been coerced and/or trafficked. He’s also telling us that the police, the judiciary, the local government and the national government have been unable to bring the weight of their collective resources to bear on his problem. Just how difficult can it be given the small number of women and the transparency of the system?

Apparently, it’s because the uneducated lowlifes who constitute the gangs are too clever for those whose responsibility it is to protect the public. Are the Dutch police really that inept?

The women are mostly EU citizens. There is no need for a Mr Big orchestrating a trafficking system. A woman in, say, Bulgaria can simply hop on a bus, end up in Amsterdam and apply for a work permit.

The prostitutes themselves habitually, and strenuously, deny that they are working under duress and that they are being exploited. They do, however, own up to working in fear – not fear of East European gangsters, but fear of Dutch politicians, feminist extremists and members of the rescue industry who are threatening their livlihood and who seem intent on violating their human rights.

DaveL 17 April 2012 - 12:11am / Europe

This is a fundamental problem when we talk about the sex industry. People don't understand that consent can be manufactured just because people are registered and out in the open doesn't mean they're not victims. The Sneep Case where over 100 victims were found in Dutch prostitution in open window prostitution is a case in point

alanposting 31 October 2011 - 10:49am

RNW, your at it again.... one would think you have a monetary interest in your rabid goings on against pot and prostitution. How does a person like Lodewijk Asscher get in office.....“We have to abandon our romantic view of the red light district.” who has a romantic view of the red light is a common sense logical approach to men wanting sex....can this man be voted out of office, he certainly is out of touch. I think he doth protest to much.

Andrew Rogers 15 December 2011 - 4:08pm / Netherlands

Don't confuse people's right to be prostitutes or the need to provide a service for "men wanting sex" with the activity of forcing women to be prostitutes and have sex. The first is an issue of morality and up for discussion - the latter is crime, pure and simple. Would you have accepted slavery because people needed someone to harvest the sugar cane?

American Expat 20 October 2011 - 11:28am

I find it somewhat amusing that people of other countries (read America) try to lay claim to the moral "high ground." I live in Amsterdam - I'm an American citizen and I much prefer Amsterdam to anywhere in the US, period. Are there problems with legalised prostitution in The Netherlands? Possibly. Although Mr. Asscher doesn't cite any specific examples where a woman was forced into prostitution here in Amsterdam. Most people assume that a woman simply wouldn't choose to become a prostitute and therefore the women who do do so because they are forced to. I have known many woman who have worked as a prostitute and they all did it because they made very good money and they actually enjoyed it. That isn't to say that the occupation is without problems. But the Dutch don't accept that criminalisation and a prison cell is the solution to every problem like the US does. It would be a great service to Europe, and indeed the rest of the world, if America would simply f*** off.

Anonymous 23 October 2011 - 2:47am

Neither the Dutch nor the Americans are of a single mind as you imply with your monochromatic comment. I don't think anyone will be f***ing off in the next little while. Suck it up.

Anonymous 23 October 2011 - 10:45am

I disagree. I think it's quite possible that you might see quite a lot of american influence "f***ing off in the next little while." These "Occupy" protests that we're seeing the world over is really a repudiation of the corporatist/capitalist system refined and exported by america. The world also sees america's hypocrisy when it comes to human rights (Guantánamo Bay, capitol punishment, extrajudicial killing of its own citizens) and realizes that america is not the beacon of "liberty and justice for all" as it would have others believe. I suggest it is you who should be "sucking it up."

Anonymous 24 October 2011 - 6:40am

Oh yes, that scary “Occupy” movement. Unfortunately it is already being diluted into a ‘leftwing mirror image of the Tea Party's smorgasbord of dissent’. Too bad they can’t keep it focused on one thing.

Abdul Okaka 19 October 2011 - 9:13pm

While a postgraduate student at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam) in 2005 I lived in the university apartment on the Geldersekade street -- the same street as the Red Light District. It was a sad sight each time I went shopping--women behind windows even during daytime, drug addicts hanging around the corner, pimps and all sorts of junkies. It all looked inhuman. The Netherlands should follow Sweden and criminalise sleeping with prostitutes. Really, these women deserve much more. They deserve to have partners and families who love and care for them, like I do. I cannot be hypocritical while having a lovnig family to claim that others do not deserve the same. Prostitution in the Netherlands--like everywhere else--is controlled by an evil underworld. There is nothing liberal or accommodating about it. It is barbaric and shameful.

alanposting 31 October 2011 - 10:48am

Your name tells us all we need to know....

Marco Marboni 19 October 2011 - 4:38pm

The downside is; if you ban RLD's, they will only turn to the streets.....

Anonymous 19 October 2011 - 5:32pm / New York

It's about time someone stood up and said this on an international level about Amsterdam. I am a professional musician who was appalled when I played a concert in Amsterdam. It was by far the seediest, most violent place out of all the European cities I visited on that tour. As a woman, I find the idea that adults with brains can defend keeping other women in windows like Walt Disney charcters or toy animals absolutely offsensive. It displays a level of idiocy unbecoming for an educated European capital. The seediness of the red light district draws the worst type of people to the city. Thugs who want to brawl, addicts and criminals. I choose to visit other cities on vacation and avoid Amsterdam.

alanposting 31 October 2011 - 11:42am

I'm so glad you let us know that you are a "professional musician" and "played a concert in Amsterdam".....those shared items says more about you than the rest of the post..... I guess its just too seedy for a "professional musician".

Hiram1 19 October 2011 - 9:06pm

Anonymous, you are right. It is the Sodom and Gomorrah of Europe! When leaving Amsterdam, do not look back. It nothing more than a "Black Hole" and it will not stop until it has completely drawn each and every visitor into it's cesspool of sin. It is a morally corrupt city!

alanposting 31 October 2011 - 11:38am

Haram, not you again! Please don't look back when YOU leave.

Anonymous 19 October 2011 - 3:55pm

Good alderman! Thank God, there is a sane voice against prostitution that has the power to bring a change. Prostitution can never be romantic, it is pure exploitation and violence against hapless women.

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