From the 1960s the Amsterdam sex business, both in terms of prostitution and pornography, has grown dramatically. Yet this development can’t be connected to organised crime. This took place in the 1980s, when (in feminist circles) it was suggested that certain forms of exploitation of prostitution exhibit traits of organised crime. This particularly referred to the trafficking of women from all over the world for prostitution markets in Western Europe. The actions that took place from then against the trafficking in the Netherlands, didn’t mark the end of the sexual revolution, but they did expose one of the drawbacks of this distressing moral and social upheaval.
In Amsterdam several studies in the first half of the 1980s showed that many Ghanaian and Nigerian women were passed into prostitution here, in many different ways. In one case Ghanaians, living in Amsterdam, let illegal Ghanaian women living in The Netherlands marry Dutch men in London, through a so-called stand-in. These men returned to Amsterdam with a marriage certificate, and then showed up with “their” illegal Ghanaian women at the registry office in Amsterdam. This certificate gave these women the Dutch nationality. To pay for the costs of this operation – in some cases bumped up to 15.000 guilders – these women made huge debts in Ghana, and they were also obliged to work in the Netherlands as prostitutes, to repay these debts. In another case, a Dutch fake marriage broker arranged marriages between Ghanaian women and Dutch men, through a bribed servant of the civil registration. To pay for the costs of their “marriage” (up to 10.000 guilders), many of these women were forced to work in sex clubs, even abroad. It appeared that trafficking of women wasn’t an apparent problem, but a real one.
Over the years the constitution of prostitution in Amsterdam changed. A constant factor is that most of the prostitutes are from outside the Netherlands. In recent years, the proportion of prostitutes from the European Union, the Central and Eastern European prostitutes, and South American prostitutes increased slightly, also because since 2000 the opportunities for residents of newly acceded EU Member States to work legally in The Netherlands continued to be extended. Therefore it is quite difficult to make statements about the extent to which women worked legally or illegally in the city of Amsterdam. There were Eastern European women in different places, sometimes escorted by a van with men, recruiting clients. At the time of a fieldwork for a study in 2006, these vans were no longer found.
Asian women in Amsterdam especially work in massage parlours. Women from non-EU countries are only legally employed in prostitution if they are married with a partner from an EU country. It thus seems unlikely that all these women are legally employed. In 2005, the centre district of Amsterdam (including the Red Light District), according to police data, recorded 49 arrests of prostitutes without valid residence permits, who were working in the licensed sector. The researchers rate this as a relatively small number, given the large number of licensed prostitution businesses in that area.
Overall, there is an increase of prostitutes from Eastern Europe under the EU regulations. They seem to have taken the place of prostitutes from Latin American countries, who generally not possessed the required documents. The number of women who work without the necessary papers, has decreased. The introduction of foreign prostitutes in sex clubs by intermediaries has also decreased. Overall, the conclusion seems justified that the number of foreign prostitutes working without a work permit has generally declined. Tighter controls and law enforcement have contributed to this development.
Anti-Prostitution Campaign since 2006
Early 2006 the City Council of Amsterdam, supported by private organizations, started a new fight against the window prostitution in the Red Light District. In June 2006 the City Council refused, through special procedures, to give new permits to four operators for a total of 125 prostitution windows, because of “the danger that these people might use their licenses to commit crimes”. However, early 2007 a judge decided that these brothels are allowed to stay open.
In July 2007 the City Council announced that they suspected that organised crime was involved in the prostitution in the Red Light District, like laundering of money through real estate trade. In September 2007, the City Council ventilated the opinion that “criminogenic industries” such as prostitution and coffee shops, were operating in the Red Light District, which should be reduced, to create space for more high-quality forms of exploitation in the area. Between September 2007 and April 2008 respected housing associations bought about 90 prostitution windows in the Red Light District, with many millions of euros of support from the City, and with the obvious intention to end prostitution in those buildings.
Money laundering, trafficking, abuse
As of December 17, 2007 media report that Amsterdam wants to drastically reduce the number of window brothels, in order to expel criminal activities like money laundering, trafficking of women and abuse. That day a plan was presented to the City Council, in which the methods to achieve this were described.
On July 2, 2009, the Amsterdam City Council discussed the “Strategy Memorandum 1012”. The Socialist Party (SP) was the only party which objected to the Memorandum. They stated that prostitution should not be called a “criminogenic sector”, because doing this, “decent and benevolent professionals are lumped together with people who are engaged in criminal trafficking and exploitation, et cetera”. All other groups welcomed the plan to get rid of all the “poor quality, low-grade, criminogenic prostitution in Amsterdam”.
Extra money for the care of prostitutes
On October 14, 2010, the City of Amsterdam adopted a plan to make available an extra 500,000 euros per year to strengthen the position of vulnerable prostitutes in Amsterdam in the next four years. This fits in with the city’s prostitution policy aimed at addressing abuses and combating coercion and exploitation. It includes extra money for the Prostitution and Health Centre, which is visited by nearly a third of all prostitutes in the Red Light District. The centre offers assertiveness training, language lessons and exit programs for prostitutes. Prostitutes can also go there with questions about health care. This way the workers in the centre build a relationship of trust with (potential) victims of trafficking. With the extra money, the Prostitution and Health Centre is able to extend its activities to other sectors of the prostitution sector, including the escort business.
Also in October 2010 the research “Vulnerable profession” was published, in which the sex industry in Amsterdam was described, as well as the need for care of the prostitutes in each sector. The study paints a picture of Amsterdam’s prostitution industry. Every year an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 prostitutes work in Amsterdam. Of these, approximately 1,000-3,400 work in window prostitution, 2,000 in home prostitution and 600-750 as independent escorts.
The researchers conclude that the Red Light District seems to be more sensitive to forced prostitution than any other prostitution areas in the city. Also the low segment of the escort business, in which mostly young Romanian women are working, seems prone to trafficking. The researchers indicate that it is complicated to determine the exact extent of abuse in the sector. There is no indication of a large circuit of illegal prostitution, such as in the streets, hotels and massage parlours.
In the context of Strategy Memorandum 1012, now called Project 1012, the study also looked at the impact of the closure of brothels. According to the researchers most prostitutes remain to work after their windows have been closed, and preferably as a window prostitute. There is little mobility to other sectors. However, they assume that closure of windows causes pressure on the position of prostitutes. This confirms the need for measures aimed at strengthening the independence and autonomy of window prostitutes. The City was therefore pleased that the new cabinet has included earlier requests to increase the minimum age limit of the Amsterdam prostitutes to 21 years in the coalition agreement.