Should prostitution be a normal profession?
Amsterdam’s Red Light District – with its winding alleyways filled with crimson-glowing windows where women attract passing customers – has become not only a tourist destination and cultural icon, but also a high-profile example of a place where safe, legal sex work has been practised for decades.
But that might soon end. Dutch parliament is currently preparing to debate the legality of prostitution in the Netherlands. With the industry facing opposition from both the Christian right and feminist left, sex workers in the Red Light District are under pressure to protect their right to work.
Could these debates lead to big changes in sex work around the world? And how could that affect the jobs and lives of the people in the industry?
“What if it was your sister?”
That’s one of the social media mottos in the youth campaign in the Netherlands that seeks to criminalise parts of sex work. The grassroots effort has gathered over 46,000 public signatures over a long seven years, finally prompting parliamentary debate, says Sara Lous. She works on the campaign, which is called “Ik ben onbetaalbaar” – or “I am priceless” in Dutch.
It aims to change the current laws so that they follow what’s called the “Nordic model,” in which male clients who hire prostitutes could be fined, in an aim to reduce violence against the working women. Right now, paid sex between two consenting adults in the Netherlands has been legal since 1971.
But Lous thinks that’s outdated in the #MeToo era, no matter how sexually liberating or symbolic the Red Light District is: “This is not from this time anymore.”
What do Red Light workers think, though? One from Romania, who goes by the pseudonym Cherry, says it’s just a way to pay rent and put away cash until she can get a “normal job” and lead a “normal life.” She’s worked in the district for a decade.
“If the petition is going to go well, then it’s going to be a good step to push me to get out of there,” she told the BBC’s Anna Holligan.
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