Tackling organized crime in the Amsterdam Red Light District


This is my translation of a joint press release from the city of Amsterdam, the district center, the Amsterdam-Amstelland Police, the Public Ministry, the Ministry of Security and Justice, the WODC and the Amsterdam Tax Services, which was published yesterday, May 26, 2011, and covers the period 2007 – 2011.

Organized crime is firmly embedded in the Amsterdam Red Light District, which means, for example, that they have a firm grip on the prostitution sector. Human trafficking, exploitation and forced prostitution are common. Also there is a growing nexus of organized crime with the backdoor activities of coffee shops. In order to tackle these structural problems a continuation of close cooperation between government agencies is needed. This is the key recommendation in the final report of the Emergo Project that was presented to Minister of Security and Justice Opstelten and Amsterdam Mayor Van der Laan.

In 2007, the then Justice Minister Donner and the then Amsterdam Mayor Cohen decided to set up a systematic study of the major / organized crime in the Red Light District. Under the project name Emergo the City of Amsterdam, the district center, the Amsterdam-Amstelland police, the Public Ministry, the Ministry of Security and Justice, the WODC and the Amsterdam Tax Services work together. In this joint venture streets, people and industries such as coffee shops and the hotel industry are thoroughly vetted. Based on the findings actions were taken and dozens of checks, criminal investigations into human trafficking and other forms of serious (organized) crime took place. Also twelve trafficking investigations over the past four years in the Red Light District were extensively analyzed and described.

Trafficking and prostitution

Two criminal investigations of trafficking in the window prostitution in Amsterdam’s Red Light District started under Emergo’s flag. Ten other criminal cases over the past four years which mainly took place in the Red Light District are also included in the analysis. The suspects in the studies, traffickers and pimps, are both men and women. They are mainly from Turkey, Hungary, the Netherlands and Germany, and are on average 30 years of age. The victims are all women. One in three victims of trafficking is 21 years or younger, in one case there was a minor. Suspects and victims know each other from prostitution areas, bars and nightclubs, or from their country of origin. In some cases, women became victims through Internet activities. Suspects use violence and threaten to use brute force to maintain exploitation, but also have many subtle ways to suppress women. They arrange accommodation and registration at the Chamber of Commerce for the prostitutes and intensively check their work at the brothels. Perpetrators and victims often live together. The studies describe the role of property owners, window operators and accountants in maintaining the forced prostitution of these young women.

It needs to be considered that in such cases it’s often not easy to get the evidence, which makes it difficult to arrive at a conviction. The integrated approach of Emergo shows that it is nevertheless possible to effectively intervene. The investigation of trafficking in prostitution was carried out by the WODC. Their extensive report is published simultaneously with the Emergo report on WODC’s website.


The Emergo project also investigated the coffee shops in the Red Light District. Research by the Public Prosecutor of the antecedents of all operators and managers of coffee shops in the area showed that 317 of the 560 examined people have criminal records. 145 of these individuals have relevant convictions; jointly they committed 1036 crimes. (21% drug-related crimes and 10.3% violent crimes.) Links with people from the heavy (organized) crime, both business related and private, are common. The investigations into organized cannibis production and grow shops in Amsterdam show that most of the cannabis comes from professional circuits. Calculations show that on an annual basis about 400 professional farms are needed to meet the demand for cannabis in the Red Light District. Getting insight into the actual purchase and profit from coffee shops is actually not possible due to the uncontrollable “back doors”. Amsterdam has already decided to reduce the number of coffee shops in postcode area 1012 to 26 in order to reduce the high concentration of coffee shops. There are also discussions with the Government about how to tackle organized crime behind the cannabis cultivation and coffee shops, and how to improve this approach.


In the 1012 postcode area there are approximately 110 hotels located, of which 45 have been examined. This included investigation of money laundering structures, dodgy ownership of property, extortion and escort activities in the hotels. The conclusion was that there isn’t a single criminal group or sector, or parts thereof, active in these hotels in an illegal way, though in some cases laundering of drugs money was suspected.

ICT research

The ICT studies include the professional Amsterdam criminals (ABC’s) related to a 1012 postcode. Also, the percentages of criminal convictions of these individuals related to authorized companies throughout the area were mapped. The operators of  18% of the licensed companies have a criminal record; while the managers of 49% of the licensed companies have a criminal record. In coffee shops, the percentage is higher.

Emergo: a combination of administrative and criminal approach

The reason for cooperating in Emergo was the grave concern about the mixing of the underworld and the upper world in the area. This concern is now supported by large-scale study. Emergo has shown that close cooperation between law enforcement and investigation is effective. The combined criminal, administrative and fiscal approach in Emergo is parallel to the 1012 municipal project. Both aim to control organized crime in the city center. The Emergo project has shown that it’s often unclear which information may be shared between public authorities. The regulations in this regard should be adjusted and made easier, to be able to tackle crime as one government body in the future. The Emergo method is continued permanently. The report strongly recommends that the collaboration between governments, as developed within Emergo, are made structural, within the framework of the Regional Information and Expertise Centre North-Holland (RIEC-NH).


About Jack Vanderwyk

Hey! What am I like! :-)
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4 Responses to Tackling organized crime in the Amsterdam Red Light District

  1. Pingback: Prostitution - Page 2

  2. Katherine says:

    Thank you so much for translating this. I am an American student currently studying at UVA. I’m attempting to write an essay about how the media influences Dutch perceptions of the RLD. This was really helpful because it’s so hard to find statistics about the crime happening there in english. Just wanted to say thanks!

  3. Interested in more information about Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
    Go check out this site, it contains lots of information: http://www.amsterdamredlightdistricttour.com

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