Monday, December 05, 2005

A Top Attraction Build on Oppression

Profile: Prostitutes at the Wallen are often victim of a modern form of slavery

It looks fun, the red lights and the smiling girls. But the windows in the Red Light District in Amsterdam hide a lot of misery. But the city council and the police don't always want to know.

Menno van Dongen

December 3, 2005, De Volkskrant

Forced sex, trafficking in women, abuse. There is a lot wrong at the Wallen in Amsterdam. One after the other critical report appears about the Red Light District. The much-praised romanticism of days past is gone.

Certainly after Lodewijk Asscher, front man of the PvdA in Amsterdam, focused attention on it by accidentally suggesting that he wanted to shut down the Wallen. That is not the case, but according to him window prostitution is a form of 'modern slavery' that needs to be discouraged.

Right into the seventies the atmosphere at the Red Light District had been easy-going. The prostitutes were predominantly Dutch and had themselves protected by relatively decent criminals such as Frits van de Wereld and Haring Arie [nicknames]. That has changed. Foreign women work behind the windows nowadays and tough traffickers rule.

The Wallen have 180 official sex businesses, with a couple of thousand prostitutes.The relatively small area - the sex businesses are located in some twenty streets - is one of the main tourist attractions of the city. Every year a couple of million people visit it. Only the canal round trip boats attract more visitors.

At first sight the Wallen seem peaceful. But that is only appearance, says Ruth Hopkins, who researched human trafficking for five years, in Amsterdam among other places. She recently published a book on this study. 'You see many young women behind the windows, who look all right en are smiling to passers-by. But behind the surface there's a lot of misery.

Ever since the lifting of the brothel ban, in 2000, prostitution is legal. It didn't lead to better working conditions. Some women work freely and independently, but they are a minority, says Hopkins. Many women are exploited behind the scenes. 'Pimps keep very precise check on how many clients a prostitute gets. And they take care that she hands over all the money she earns.'

The working conditions of the foreign women are often bad, also Anneke Bouwman of HVO-Querido in Amsterdam says- she assists victims of human trafficking. 'Women are forced to have sex with clients or to do so without a condom. If they don't obey their pimp, they get abused.'

Prostitutes rarely report their pimps to the police. Many foreign women are under threat and too frightened to talk to the police. Dutch prostitutes often have a relationship with the man who is exploiting them.

Representatives of prostitutes and business-owners find that the portrayed image of the Wallen is over negative. 'Many people have preconceptions,' says Mariska Majoor, the founder of the Prostition Information Center. 'A friend of a prostitution is not necessarily a pimp. The police often will regard him as such, because they assume that a good man wouldn't allow his wife behind the windows. That is rubbish.'

But there is more wrong at the Wallen. The area is in the hands of a small group of criminals, Asscher suggested this week. He pointed to a building that was owned by the recently murdered John Mieremet. Several sources have affirmed to Volkskrant that porn-entrepreneur 'fat' Charles Geerts purchased many buildings at the Wallen. Geerts often is linked to big drugs criminals, but he was never sentenced.

Prostitution has always been a shady branch. But when sex businesses became legal, abuses were supposed to be remedied by the police. 'That did not happen,' says Hopkins. 'Prostitutes have to show their papers all the time to show whether they are illegal or underage. But other than that the police is far too lame.'

Criminologist Frank Bovenkerk comes to the same conclusion. 'Amsterdam does not put the slightest obstacle in the modern pimp's way.' The city council denies that. Mayor Cohen wants the Attorney General Donner to investigate the abuses in the sex industry.

But the city council could do more. 'When prostitutes finally muster the courage to report their abuse, nothing at all is done,' states Hopkins, 'it has no priority. That is the real problem at the Wallen: the indifference of the authorities.

* Note: please do not make this article available via an open web-archive. This translation is meant for use on the Dignity list only.


Blogger Donkey said...

Wow!!! That's a great translation! Have you translated it yourself?

I am a starry-eyed idealist myself, but nobody visits my blog!!!

Greetz, a very depressed Donkey.

7:33 AM  

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