Sunday, November 4, 2007

Red Light District

11/3/07: Today we went to Amsterdam with the cast, and Scottie & I went with 25 other people on a tour of the Red Light District led by former sex workers that now are employed by the Prostitute Information Center. The PIC is located in the middle of the largest of the three red light districts in Amsterdam. I was glad to have the opportunity to go on the tour, because it humanized the area for me, and made it not about the shock value. Granted, it is still unsettling to me seeing women standing in the windows in their underwear waiting for business, but talking about it with the open and straightforward guides who were perfectly normal people made it less uncomfortable to walk through the streets. I learned that the window business is only 20% of the sex industry in Amsterdam, the rest existing in the shows, brothels, clubs and stores that dominate this area. What I found fascinating was how the district is so integrated into the daily life of the neighborhoods, which aren’t only about sexual exploitation. The sex shops and windows that are on the street level have apartments and homes in the floors above them, just like in the rest of Amsterdam. The homes aren’t necessarily for the sex workers, as you might assume, but house families and communities like any other neighborhood. A perfect example: just down the street from the PIC, with a few curtained windows in between, was a kindergarten & day care center for the families that live in that area.
Even though I don’t like the crudeness of porn and penises and naked women plastered in every shop window, I appreciate that the Dutch accept the reality of prostitution in our world, and prefer to regulate it in a way that the women who work in the industry have a defined relationship with the police (unlike in many countries, where police officers often take a cut of the sex worker’s income in exchange for not arresting her.) Also, the government taxes the workers, just like any other employed person in the Netherlands. The industry is regulated, and the women are essentially business owners who decide for themselves how much they will charge, and what services they will offer. Compare that to the dangerous situation of a woman in a country where prostitution is illegal, who is controlled by a pimp or can’t go easily to the police for protection, and I am relieved that these laws exist.
The part that still disgusts me though, is how big the industry is at all. These women wouldn’t turn to this business to make money if there was no money to be made. In fact, there was a promotion not long ago in the Red Light District to offer services from men for women, and it was quickly found to be not a profitable business. Whereas women pay between 70 and 130 euros per shift to rent a window room for 8-12 hours, and will make 200-1,000 euros in that time.


James Rone said...

I have to say, I prefer the idea of a place where the "Red Light District" refers to an area of town where afternoon traffic is bad because of poor city planning. (Groan) We miss you guys so much, but we played the game you got us for our wedding last night.

Erin kicked my ass.

We may not play again for a while.


James and Erin

Anonymous said...

Hey Scott,

I'm so sorry I/we missed you yesterday. Just wanted to pop in and give you a 'crazy Belgian hug' ... I'm pretty sure you didn't get one of those in a LONG time! ;)

I hope you're doing well (and the girl that broke her foot by the way!). I hear you guys will be on the road again ... but not coming to Belgium any time soon.

But ... If you ARE ever in Belgium again, don't forget ... there's a hug waiting for you!

Take really good care of yourself!