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Turning down Amsterdam’s red lights

Every empire must fall. Some crumble, others burn.

In Amsterdam, “Emperor of Sex” Charlie Geerts sold his last week for $35 million and a tidy profit.

Property magnate and owner of one-third of the city’s famed red-light district windows — through which tourists and interested parties alike can ogle lingerie-clad prostitutes — Geerts was muscled into selling his brothels to the city in what Mayor Job Cohen calls an effort to tackle the “underlying criminality” of the district.

The 52 windows, which Cohen says attract money laundering to the area, will be closed, the working girls removed, and public housing installed.

Though prostitution remains legal in Amsterdam through a system that ensures women receive STD testing and have legal rights, it looks like the red-light district is about to get less rosy.

For many sex workers, current and former, the deal signals trouble ahead.

“We believe that less windows means more exploitation of women,” says Metje Bleek of the prostitution advocacy group the Red Thread. “If the windows close down, women will be hidden where union representatives and health workers can’t make contact with them. You are just sending them deeper into the woods.”

The tourist trade is worried, too. The 700-year-old district, nestled in the heart of the city, exudes a seedy charm that attracts throngs of travellers every year. By some estimates, the red-light district is as much a draw as the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum.

But Cohen stands by his decision to gentrify the neighbourhood, as does city councillor Karina Schaapman, herself a former prostitute. “There are people who are really proud of the red-light district as a tourist attraction,” she says.

“It’s supposed to be such a cheery place that shows just what a free city we are. But I think it’s a cesspit. There’s a lot of exploitation of women and a lot of social distress. That’s nothing to be proud of.”
– Source: Rebecca Addelman, MACLEANS.CA, Oct. 8, 2007

Last updated CET (Central European Time)

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