Anyone who has ever been to Amsterdam knows its reputation as a party city. Both brothels and marijuana are legal, and, at any given time, the streets are filled with stag parties looking for a good time.
The red-light district is in Amsterdam’s city center, and most tourists and even day-trippers will pass by the large front-facing windows with scantily-clad women in them.
Sex shops and brothels litter the streets while everyone from children to the elderly walks past as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
And nothing is out of the ordinary. Prostitution has been legal there since 2000, and most locals adhere to the myth of the “happy sex worker”. These “window women” can earn up to $485 dollars a day and are seen as having a respectable job like any other person.
However, all may not be as it appears and the sex work industry is known to be involved in some seedy and criminal activities. Multiple sex trafficking trials have filled the Dutch courts, revealing the truth behind the so-called “happy sex worker”.
Most of these girls in the windows have been brought from Eastern European countries by abusive pimps and have been sold into the profession. Their pimps keep most of their money, and they often have tales of forced abortions, rape, coerced cosmetic surgery, and beatings.
Now, a growing number of locals and politicians are protesting against the brothels, saying that they are no more than “commercialized rape”. A new law is expected to come forward next year, making sex with a prostitute who is suspected of being trafficked punishable by four years behind bars.
But is this enough and how will it be enforced?
Former sex worker Angelica has shared her story in the hope that more will be done. At just 17 years old, she was sold into the business and spent five horrific years as a “window woman” in an Amsterdam brothel.
If you’d like to stand with the movement, you can start by watching and sharing the hard-hitting anti-trafficking video below:
Angelica, who is Romanian, was led to believe that a British man whom she considered her boyfriend had set up a job for her as a hairdresser in Amsterdam. When she arrived, she met her first client, but he was not there to receive a haircut.
Her passport was taken away, and she was falsely led to believe that her traffickers had paid off her family so that she wouldn’t be reported missing. She received just $12 dollars a day for food.
“The man who brought me to England and then to Holland used me like a piece of meat,” Angelica said. “When I saw the brothels with all the girls in the windows, I cried. I cried very hard because they looked horrible, and I knew that was what was coming to me.”
Angelica was raped, beaten, forced to have unprotected sex, contracted an STD, forced to have an abortion, and cut in the face with a knife. “Pimps would tell me it’s legal, that they can do what they want to me because the police are on their side and not mine,” she added.
Eventually, Angelica felt brave enough to tell her story to a staff member of one of the support agencies that makes rounds to the brothels. Then an undercover police officer visited, posing as a client, and Angelica received help from him.
Police took her to a refuge, but her time in the windows had taken its toll. Angelica returned to Romania but now lives in a hostel. While she is now in touch with her family, rekindling the connection was difficult as traffickers had led them to believe Angelica entered prostitution willingly.
The red-light district seems to have become a normal part of life in Amsterdam. Regardless of how the women appear, or the horror stories that are told, people simply ignore the truth and walk by.
“I now understand I was trafficked, but then I didn’t even know the word,” Angelica revealed. “The problem is that once I was in that brothel, everybody just walked past smiling and waving, or glaring and laughing, including some of the police, because everything was perfectly legal.”
However, campaigners in Holland are gaining support and have organized a march in front of The Hague to demand that brothels once again become illegal.
Dutch MP Gert-Jan Segers supports the campaigners. He said, “We legalized prostitution in 2000. The idea was it was giving women their freedom and to get rid of the criminality. But we took it away from being linked to freedom and we linked it to human trafficking.”
“The red-light district is a dark place. It’s chilling, it’s humiliating – it makes me cry. For a long time, we just accepted it – there are tour guides telling naughty and funny stories about the place. But the reality is that it’s just commercialized rape.”
Segers added that men should be more wary about paying for sex. He says politicians are planning to “make the buyers responsible”. Anyone found to be buying sex from a suspected trafficked sex worker will be punished.
It looks like the #MeToo movement has entered Amsterdam and that it’s “Time’s Up” for the red-light district.