Residents and sex workers protest 'mega brothel' in Amsterdam

Angry Amsterdam residents confront mayor over ‘mega brothel’ plans joining sex workers in protests against the Dutch city’s plot to clampdown on prostitution in Red Light District

  • Amsterdam city looks to reform sex industry by moving trade to outskirts 
  • Follows city’s ‘Stay Away’ campaign to clamp down on sex and drug tourism

Amsterdam residents joined sex workers on Thursday in protest of plans to move the red-light district trade to the outskirts of the city as authorities look to reform its image.

In a meeting in the south of the city, hundreds of angry locals argued against the building of a ‘mega brothel’ on their doorstep, finding themselves on the side of sex workers bidding to stay in the city. 

Amsterdam has pushed through radical changes to its industry in recent months, enforcing earlier closures of brothels and banning smoking cannabis in the red-light district. 

Residents are wary of moving sex work to residential areas outside the city, while sex workers feel the moves constitute a ‘witch hunt’, hurting sex workers’ livelihoods without tackling crime itself.

Sabrina Sanchez, a sex worker, told AFP: ‘We really don’t agree with their solutions that they are offering, that they are imposing. They’re not even negotiating with the sex workers’ organisations.’ 

Sex workers and sympathisers take part in a demonstration to protest plans to shutter the city’s historic red-light district, to be moved to a new erotic centre, in Amsterdam on 30 March

City officials plan to move the sex workers to reduce crime and nuisance behaviour in the city, they say.

They hope to decide on a location for the proposed ‘mega brothel’ by the end of the year. It could then take years to build.

The mayor said she was convinced that the erotic centre would not cause any danger and that sex workers would be more secure.

Michelle, an Amsterdam sex worker, said: ‘If you’re already inside that’s fine, but you also have to go out with your earnings.’

She also argued that the 100 booths for sex workers in the erotic centre were far fewer than the 250 spots in the red-light district.

But, with its spaces dedicated to rest, art, culture and ‘erotic’ entertainment, the planned centre could be beneficial for some, so long as the aim is not to shut down the red-light district altogether, she added.

One former sex worker argued against the closure of the red-light district, but noted that ‘there are also trans and gay’ sex workers for whom there is ‘no place, and this centre offers them an option.’

An older study into experiences of the red-light district concluded that the nature of the spaces granted sex workers independence and standardisations in interaction and negotiation, much of which was shaped by tourist expectations, for better or for worse.

The regulation of sex work in Amsterdam ensures industry workers, including but not limited to sex workers, are safer and reliably paid, generating steady tax revenues for the city.

Sex workers are also eligible for health insurance, unemployment and invalidity benefits, and can access STI checks. Regulation has made human trafficking much more rare and access to health support has made the experience safer for clients. 

In consequence, the city is renowned for its sex industry, attracting international visitors interested in sex tourism and access to Amsterdam’s ‘toleration policy’ towards cannabis under certain conditions.

On 1 April, the city looked to restrain this with a new law that required sex work businesses to close at 3am, rather than 6am as was previously the case. 

A sign at the NDSM wharf, mentioned as a possible location for the so-called mega brothel. The sign references De Wallen, the best-known red-light district in Amsterdam

Amsterdam last month launched a ‘Stay Away’ campaign to exclude ‘zombie tourists’, who frequently visit the city for sex, drugs and alcohol. 

A statement from the city read: ‘British men aged 18 to 35 will initially be targeted by the campaign, which launched last week. There will also be a campaign targeting nuisance visitors from the Netherlands and other EU countries throughout the year.’ 

Amsterdam’s new campaign will involve people seeing special warnings when they search for terms such as ‘stag party Amsterdam’ or ‘pub crawl Amsterdam’.

The campaign features a staged video showing a young man being arrested after he was found stumbling along the city’s streets.

The video features large red and white writing saying: ‘Coming to Amsterdam for a messy night and getting trashed = 140 euro fine and a criminal record.’

Sex workers in response planned a protest in the city against the decision. 

MailOnline contacted Amsterdam City for comment.

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