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Wild days over as Amsterdam Red Light District faces chop

February 15, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Amsterdam’s Red Light District has been a tourist attraction for centuries, visited in 1758 by the notorious Italian seducer Casanova, among many others before and since – but Amsterdam’s new mayor has other ideas and the wild days of the city’s most infamous precinct may finally be over.

Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema has called for changes to the district, known locally as “De Wallen”.

The mayor, who is female, says turning prostitution into a tourist attraction is “humiliating” and “unacceptable”.

Halsema took office last June. She told Dutch newspaper Het Parool this week she wants to consider all options for reforming the area, making plain she disapproves of its current use.

“The circumstances in which women have to do their work have worsened,” Dutch news website quoted her as saying.

Halsema said Amsterdam’s tradition of open prostitution was “increasingly linked to the humiliation of women by large groups of tourists”.

Amsterdam in 1905. Two prostitutes in front of a house waiting for customers

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of young political activists has gone further with an open letter demanding the “public meat market” in the Red Light District be ended permanently.

The action group, which spans the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA), the progressive liberal D66 group and the right-wing liberal VVD, says the exploitation of sex workers has gone too far.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District, 1957. A sex worker stands in a doorway in De Wallen

The group wants women to prove they have lived in the Netherlands for at least a year before they can work legally as prostitutes. Criminal gangs are trying to move sex workers in from Eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere.

In an opinion piece titled “Enough is enough, take action in the Wallen”, the group wrote: “We, the youth of Amsterdam, have come to the conclusion that regardless of your point of view on sex work, the current situation cannot be justified.”

Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema

The Red Light District’s heyday may have been in the wild 1970s, when the area filled with tourists and hippies, porn shops selling sex magazines and running peep shows, cafés offering marijuana or permitting its consumption – alongside the famous rooms in which sex workers posed provocatively and solicited behind illuminated windows.

Above: Red Light District more recently

Times have changed. Buck’s night groups of roistering drunks, leering and jeering, have proved too much for some Amsterdam residents. Even the famous Dutch tolerance has its limits.

Written by Peter Needham

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