Residents confronted Amsterdam’s mayor on a controversial plan to move legal sex work from the city’s historic Red Light District to a suburban “erotic centre”.
In a meeting hall in the south of the city, hundreds of angry locals who don’t want a “mega brothel” on their doorstep teamed up with sex workers who want to stay in their red neon booths.
In the middle of the row is Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema, who is sticking to a plan that few people seem to like.
“It’s not possible,” one mother said in tears at the meeting in the south of Amsterdam, near one of three sites that Halsema has proposed for the 100-room erotic centre.
Sex workers, meanwhile, insist they want to stay in the “Wallen” Red Light District, and that they are being scapegoated for complaints about crime, drunkenness and drug abuse in the area.
“The mayor says we are just a tourist attraction and people come and laugh at us,” one sex worker who gave her name as Michelle said after the meeting. “That’s just not the case.”
The issue has turned into a battle for the future of Amsterdam, as it tries to shed its “sin city” image and ease the impact of mass tourism, while still keeping its soul.
It could take several years before any erotic centre takes shape, with Amsterdam municipality aiming to decide on a location by the end of 2023.
Protests against the move
In March, dozens of sex workers wearing masks and carrying banners saying “Save the Red Light” confronted the mayor at city hall, saying the plans would harm their livelihoods and were unsafe.
The mayor was also accused at the meeting of harming the Netherlands by driving away business.
The row even involved the European Medicines Agency [EMA], which has strongly opposed the fact that two of the proposed sites are near its new headquarters in south Amsterdam.
The mayor said she was convinced that the erotic centre would not cause any danger and that sex workers would in fact be more secure.
Sex workers themselves dispute Halsema’s claim.
“If you’re already inside that’s fine, but you also have to go out with your earnings,” Michelle said.
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.