Red Light District Amsterdam

Red Light District Amsterdam

Everything you need to know

For visitors coming to the Red Light District Amsterdam, the glow of red lights and women standing behind the windows can be both fascinating and disturbing. The red light district in Amsterdam is famous in the whole world. In this area prostitution takes place as a legal business under Dutch law. Over 6.000 women and men offer themselves daily as prostitutes in the Amsterdam Area. Whatever your initial response, it is important to acknowledge that there is always more happening behind the windows than what we first see. In the Netherlands, prostitution is legal and everything seems to be arranged well. But in reality, issues such as exploitation, human trafficking, criminal activity and violence often exist behind the women’s and men’s smiling faces.

Red Light District Amsterdam and Human Trafficking

Many of the workers in the Red Light District Amsterdam are forced into prostitution. Because of debts, promises made by pimps, harsh violence or difficult circumstances. It’s difficult to say for how many this is the case. Estimates vary between 10% and 90%. It all depends on how you define ‘forced’.

Generally, the reasons people end up in prostitution are:

  • need/desire for money
  • human trafficking
  • drug addiction
  • and possibly: not learning to set personal boundaries at a young age

Quick facts Red Light District Amsterdam

Prostitution is one of the easiest jobs to get in the Netherlands, but it is one of the hardest jobs to leave. Some organizations state that virtually no women get into prostitution completely voluntarily. A few facts about the situation in Amsterdam:

  • In the Netherlands, about 25.000 to 30.000 people work in prostitution on a yearly basis.
  • An estimated 92% of the workers are foreigners, primarily from Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and South America. Economic vulnerability, namely a lack of job opportunities in these origin countries is widely recognized as the main reason for exploitation.
  • There are about 400 windows in Amsterdam
  • Between 80% and 95% of the people working in prostitution were (sexually) abused at some point in their life before starting this work.
  • Most of the women are between 23 and 30 years old
  • The costs for renting a window are at least 100 to 150 euro for one part of the day
  • Working hours are between 55 and 125 hours per week
  • Most of the workers work 6 days a week
  • Many of the women have children

Working in prostitution comes with serious consequences

Individuals working in the sex industry are highly vulnerable to exploitation but they are also vulnerable to other forms of trauma and violence. Organizations that work alongside the workers have done research that shows working in prostitution comes with serious consequences. This goes for both women who work voluntarily and women who are forced to work. They often feel ashamed. The workers often experience high levels of stress which lead to health problems. And physically they run a high risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease or even become pregnant. 68% of the women who work in prostitution have symptoms that point to posttraumatic stress disorder.

Reasons for working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam

When asking about the reasons for working in prostitution, an independent research organization found that:

  • only 2% of the women enjoy the work
  • only 4% like the attention they get
  • 53% are not able to do any other work because of visa/residency restrictions
  • 61% say they do not see any alternative
  • 78% do not speak Dutch

About Shelter Hostels Amsterdam

As volunteers of two hostels so close to Red Light District Amsterdam, we are often confronted with the reality of Amsterdam’s red-light district. The Shelter Hostels are part of a big non profit organization. By donating a huge part of the revenue of our hostels, we support a local organization that helps sex workers who want to find a way out of prostitution. They reach out to these women and men and help them in every way we can (legal advice, shelter, physical needs, other work, press charges against human traffickers). Our goal is to offer hope and a new beginning for these often vulnerable people. And we try to raise awareness among our guests. If you are planning on visiting the red-light district during your stay in Amsterdam, please consider what you’ve just learned. That the hurt behind this major attraction might not be worth a visit at all.

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