A third of Amsterdam’s Red Light District brothels to close in crackdown on crime

Update – Sep. 21, 2007: The Dutch city of Amsterdam is to close one-third of the brothels in its famous red light district. The city has reached a 25m euro ( £18m) deal to buy 18 buildings and turn them into shops or housing. […more…]

Amsterdam — City officials say they will turn off the red lights and shutter a third of the windows in Amsterdam‘s famed prostitution district, where scantily-clad ladies of the night have beckoned customers for hundreds of years.

“We’re not knights on a morality crusade, and this is intended to target financial crime, not prostitution per se,” city spokesman Martien Maten said Thursday. “But we do think it will change the face of the Red Light District.”

The Dutch government legalized prostitution in 2000 to make it easier to tax and regulate.

Maten said the city was now making use of a new law to revoke brothels’ licenses when it suspects operators have used them for money laundering or other illegal financial activity.

“In concrete terms (that) means that those involved won’t be able to continue their businesses” after Jan. 1, the city said in a statement.

But advocacy groups for prostitutes said the move was misguided, since it will hurt the women who act as independent contractors renting space behind the windows. Brothel owners said they would appeal the decision in court.

“The biggest problem we have is with pimps on the street, not the people who own the windows,” said Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute who now runs the Prostitution Information Center in the heart of the Red Light District.

“Local politicians don’t understand that. Because they want to crack down on crime so badly they are acting like bulls in a china shop,” she said.

“Fat” Charlie Geerts, who owns 20 buildings in the district and 60 of the windows slated for closure, said he would appeal the decision. Prosecutors cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing in September 2005.

“You’re hurting a bunch of people who have nothing to do with it (crime),” he told local television station AT5.

The narrow streets near Amsterdam’s center have been known as a hangout for hookers since the city was the hub of a global trading empire during the Netherlands’ 17th century Golden Age.

Even before the formal legalization, prostitution in the district was tolerated by authorities and had become a major tourist attraction.

Women in lingerie stand behind the windows, tapping their fingers against the glass to attract customers, who are no longer sailors on shore leave. The area is home to numerous popular bars, as well as brothels and sex clubs. By some estimates, nearly a third of tourists who visit Amsterdam visit the Red Light District — most just for a peep.

But the area is a magnet for human traffickers, drug dealers, and petty criminals; and Mayor Job Cohen and members of his Labor party called for the crackdown.

Earlier, Cohen’s administration earned a reputation for prudeness by barring pole dancers from a prominent nightclub and cracking down on public nudity during the city’s annual Gay Pride festival.

Smaller brothels say the financial screening is unfair, because banks and reputable accountants are often unwilling to work with them, making it difficult to keep correct books.

“This is a war between the city and the real estate bosses, and it’s the women who are suffering,” said Metje Blaak, spokeswoman for De Rode Draad, a labor union for prostitutes.

She said she feared many of the affected prostitutes would end up working on the street, which is more dangerous and where it is more difficult to halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

But city spokesman Maten said that business in the area has been in a slump and he suspected that many of the prostitutes affected — around 300, given that the 105 windows that will be shut are often occupied in shifts — will find work at the remaining legal brothels.

He added he didn’t expect the closures to hurt the city’s tourism revenues.

“Amsterdam has many other things to offer,” he said.

Original title: A third of red lights extinguished in crackdown on Amsterdam’s famed prostitution district

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 1, 2006.
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