My Red Light: Amsterdam’s First Prostitute-Run Brothel

Today marks an even bigger leap in the Amsterdam sex industry, already the world’s most liberal city in that regard. The mayor of the Dutch capital, Eberhard van der Laan will be opening the first brothel to be run by the prostitutes themselves, an effort to improve the working conditions for sex workers that has been dubbed the ‘municipal brothel’ due to the involvement of the council.

The infamous Red Light District, comprising of around 4oo windows and prostitutes, has become synonymous with the character of Amsterdam, however this is only the surface of the city’s sex trade, estimated at around 5,000 to 8,000 workers in total. It was only in 2000 that this booming industry was legalised in the Netherlands, as an attempt to make prostitution safer and control the amount of influence that pimps have. However with the huge amount of sex tourism that followed, inevitably the city has become a hotbed for trafficking sex workers, especially from eastern Europe.

This project, called My Red Light, is cutting out the middleman to enable prostitutes to control all aspects of their work, from the interior design of their room to paying the municipal tax for the business. This heightened responsibility has the mutual goal of reducing the number of pimps and giving sex workers more room for professional growth. Sonja Pol, the manager of the city’s prostitution programme explains that the initiative can, ‘contribute to the emancipation and self-employment of sex workers in Amsterdam…by setting up their own window brothel, sex workers acquire knowledge, experience and a position to develop themselves.’

As much as the aim of the brothel is wholly positive, the darker side of Amsterdam’s sex trade means that some are questioning the likelihood of effective change and even the involvement of the council. Among other things, it is debatable that this is the final solution to ridding sex workers of the involvement of pimps. It is also a desperate grasp for the city council to improve a difficult situation, therefore, as explained by prostitution researcher Karin Werkman, “One simply cannot know whether a woman renting a window there does or does not give up her earnings to a pimp. It’s really in the council’s interest that the whole thing works out well…If something does go wrong, if it turns out that pimps are involved, will we be properly informed?”

The My Red Light project has the capacity to empower prostitutes, and the support of the city council should enable progress, so let’s see if ‘clean’ sex work is really possible.