De Wallen, the infamous red light district in Amsterdam, Holland, is under threat. Many of its window brothels, in which women are displayed like carcasses for the entertainment of sex tourists, are closing down. Most legal street prostitution zones across the country have closed, and soon they will all cease operation. A number of politicians and law enforcers are now accepting that legalised prostitution has been an unmitigated disaster. There is currently a proposed law being considered by the Dutch Senate which, if passed, would result in punters being criminalised if they pay for sex with a trafficked, pimped or otherwise coerced woman.
These changes are the result of a vibrant sex trade abolitionist movement emerging in Holland.
The Dutch legalised their brothel industry in the year 2000. The government promised that this would result in safety for the women, and an end to trafficking. It claimed that everything would be above board, safe and clean. The opposite happened. Sex tourism is now a major industry, with British men being one group of Europeans visiting the city to pay for sex. A number of punters I have interviewed told me that they wouldn’t have dreamt of using prostituted women back home, but that being in Holland gave them permission to do it.
The illegal and unlicensed sex trade has boomed under legalisation, trafficking of women has risen dramatically, demand is on the rise and the women are certainly no safer than they were when pimping was illegal.
I have been visiting Holland over the course of 15 years, researching the consequences of legalisation. I have interviewed sex buyers (including one who told me he first paid for sex when he was 12 years old), women in brothels, pimps and pro-legalisation lobbyists that make a profit off the backs of prostituted women.
Xaviera Hollander is a big part of the propaganda machine that promotes the notion that prostituted women under legalisation are having a great time. Hollander is known for her memoir, The Happy Hooker: My Own Story, which sold by the millions. I visited her at her home in Amsterdam, to ask if she thinks the women are happy under legalisation. She admits to me that trafficking is on the rise, and that legalisation is far from effective in removing criminality from the sex trade. Coming from a former pimp, this is quite something.
There are large numbers of tour guides offering tours around Amsterdam’s red light areas. I took one of these tours last year, and was told that legalisation is a perfect model, that the women are safe and happy and the public accept the window brothels as part of the architecture. I asked the guide where he got his information from, and he told me that the Prostitution Information Centre (PIC) provide, for a fee, information for all of the tour companies. The PIC is run as a business by women who claim to be “sex workers”. In fact they appear to be nothing of the kind, being a company charging for this advice and therefore profiting from prostitution.
What once looked like a revolutionary approach to prostitution is now clearly seen as a disaster, by all except those who seek to make a profit from prostitution.
Jolanda Boer is a senior public prosecutor specialising in human trafficking. Over the past decade Boer has dealt with more than 100 such cases in Amsterdam. “There have been cases where the girl has been raped by their pimps and threatened into working behind the windows. The women are not in a position to freely tell people when something is going wrong. But of course they’re smiling because if you don’t you’re not going to get a client,” says Boer.
On Saturday I spoke to a packed room about my book on the global sex trade. The event was held in the red light district, in a building that had previously been a Chinese massage parlour offering “happy endings”. I had expected some kind of protest, or infiltration by the pro-prostitution lobby. But every person in the room was there because they recognised that prostitution is a human rights abuse, harmful to the women involved, and that legalisation has been disastrous.
The following day I was in Den Haag, home of the Dutch parliament, launching my book in front of dozens of concerned citizens, all of whom have had enough of Holland being held up as a perfect model in dealing with prostitution. After the launch, dozens of us marched along the local red light district, holding up banners and placards with slogans such as “Shut down the sex trade” and “Enough is enough”. It was the first ever public demonstration against legal brothels.
The Dutch empire is crumbling. Over one-third of all window brothels have closed, and more will soon lose their licences. A group of 10 Hungarian traffickers are currently on trial in Den Haag, and much of the reporting of the trial links trafficking of women to the legalised regime. There is still a long way to go, but now that feminists are daring to speak out against the disastrous Dutch model of legalisation, there is no going back.
Julie Bindel is the author of ‘The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth’ (Palgrave McMillan, 2017)
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