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Amsterdam statue honors prostitutes

Belle, Sex Worker Commemorative Statue

In Amsterdam’s Red Light District, there is a bronze statue honoring sex workers from around the world.

It is the first and only monument of its kind.

The statue, titled Belle1French for “beautiful”, depicts a busty woman standing wide-legged in a doorway at the top of a small staircase, gazing confidently into the world.

A plague reads, in English, “Respect sex workers all over the world.” 

To prevent vandalism, the statue is secured with steel. Belle is enthroned on a high granite pedestal, which is meant to deter those who urinate in public.

The statue was unveiled during the Red Light District Open Day on March 31, 2007.

She was created by artist Els Rijerse of ‘s-Graveland, Netherlands.

Belle statue, Amsterdam
Created by Dutch artist Els Rijerse, this Amsterdam statue honors prostitutes around the world

Prostitute Information Center

The bronze sculpture, which stands on the Oudekerksplein in front of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest church, was designed on the initiative of Mariska Majoor.

Majoor, herself a former prostitute, runs the Prostitution Information Center located on the same square.

Belle, "Respect Sex Workers" statue in Amsterdam
A miniature version of the Belle statue can be bought at the nearby Prostitute Information Center

“Respect Sex Workers”

According to Majoor, the statue is intended to promote respect for the millions of people around the world who earn their money in sex work.  

“Hundreds of thousands of women and men all over the world earn their money in prostitution. In many countries that is a dangerous life. People are ostracized, stoned by their families, raped by the police. They don’t get the respect they deserve.” Majoor says.

“With this image we want to give them something that gives them strength, that they can be proud of. It is a tribute, an expression of respect.”

Human Trafficking, Assault, and Murder

The immediate reason for placing the statue was the murder of a Hungarian prostitute.

Just a year after its unveiling, a commemoration was held for a Romanian sex worker. The 21-year-old woman, known only by her work name Mona, was killed in a hotel room.

And despite initiatives and police vigilance, human trafficking remains a problem.

Flowers are laid every year on December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Oudekerksplein: Old Church Square

Most bordellos and related businesses in the immediate neighborhood of the church have been closed as part of Amsterdam’s infamous Project 1012.

Nowadays most Red Light District businesses are found across the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal.

Oudekerksplein (literally: Old Church Square) itself is surrounded by pubs, coffee houses, restaurants, a day care center, a radio station, and bordellos.

Take a walk around the church:

Bronze relief of a hand caressing a female breast

On the south-facing side of the Oude Kerk church a bronze relief of a hand caressing a female breast is set among the cobblestones. It is one of several bronze and iron works of art donated to the city of Amsterdam by an unknown artist.

Unknown to the general public, that is. The City knows who it is. All the city council will reveal is that the artist, who was active in the 1980s and 1990s, worked in the medical field by day — and was a hobby artist in his or her free time.

The City struck a deal with: the Municipality of Amsterdam would take ownership of the works of art, under the condition that it would keep the artist’s identity a secret.

sculpture at Oudekerksplein
This bronze sculpture, depicting a hand caressing a breast, was donated to the city by an anonymous artist

More about Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Red Light District in Amsterdam

The Red Light District in Amsterdam is a major draw for tourists.

There are in fact three such districts, but the downtown neighborhood known as “De Wallen,” or “Rosse Buurt,” is the oldest, largest and best known.

While many visitors still believe Amsterdam has an ‘anything goes’ policy, the City of Amsterdam is actively looking at curtailing the number of prostitutes, pornography-related businesses, and ‘coffeeshops‘ (cannabis cafes). More

Amsterdam Red Light District: Walking Tour

The best way to see the Red Light District is with a guided walking tour. Discover Amsterdam’s Wallen with a professional guide. See the famous coffee shops, erotic theaters, and narrow streets. Learn about the history of sex work in the Netherlands.

This article was first published on April 2, 2007.

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