My Red Light: A Safer Work Space for Sex Workers?

This week the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, opened My Red Light: a brothel in Amsterdam which, unlike other establishments in De Wallen, is owned entirely by the women and men who work there.

The brothel has been described as “het eerste prostitutiebedrijf in zelfbeheer” (the first brothel under self-ownership). According to van der Laan, it represents a “whole new model” in the centuries-old Amsterdam sex industry. Due to the close involvement of the Gemeente in the project, some have jokingly referred to My Red Light as the “municipal brothel”.

Eberhard van der Laan: a clever scheme by the mayor of Amsterdam?

The Legal History of Amsterdam’s Oldest Profession

Prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands in 2000 in the hope that this would “clean up” the sex industry. Licences must be obtained, and taxes must be paid. The plan did not entirely work, however. To this day the district of De Wallen remains a focus for people traffickers and organised crime.

However, in 2007 the city of Amsterdam bought the buildings that now house My Red Light from a notorious brothel-owner in the hope that he would vacate the area. The Gemeente then sold the premises to a social investment fund. The fun in turn rents them out to My Red Light. The brothel also benefits from a start-up loan from Rabobank.

De Wallen by day

A Safer Type of Brothel?

The point of My Red Light is that the prostitutes who work there are self-employed, can determine their own payment terms and working hours, and will not have to pay rent during holidays or periods of illness. They will also have the opportunity to follow educational courses on subjects such as accounting. The idea is to give more independence to those working there so that they can become less reliant on third parties.

The idea that My Red Light constitutes safe prostitution remains a delusion, however. The Gemeente itself has admitted that there is no guarantee that sex workers who rent windows there are not passing on part of their profits to pimps. The Gemeente hopes rather that the project will “empower” sex workers to seek independence and to gain a degree of business acumen in the process. Whether this proves to be the result of the My Red Light project, however, remains to be seen.

Ross McQueen
Originally from Scotland, Ross has been wandering on the European mainland for the past 5 years. He has lived in Berlin and Brussels, with a 2-year stay in Amsterdam in between. He is waging battle with the Dutch language, and is slowly gaining the upper hand.


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