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E veryone has an opinion about where Felicia Anna works. TIME has used pseudonyms to protect the identities of sex workers interviewed for this piece. In the years since Felicia Anna arrived in this city of , though, a crisis has been building that leaves the fate of the red light district uncertain.
Budget Ladies wants sex Center City have flooded the streets of De Wallen, often snapping photos of sex workers without permission and crowding out residents. In the Ladies wants sex Center City. Halsema has ruled out a city-wide ban on sex work but says the red light district must fundamentally change: crime must go down, residents must have a quieter life, and sex workers must have safer working conditions. In July, she announced four possible options for reform—including the closure of all windows and the end of prostitution in the red light district.
That idea has angered sex workers and their unions, who say it would drive them into more vulnerable underground conditions and damage the livelihoods Ladies wants sex Center City tax-paying workers. We want to be famous for our cultural heritage. On a Friday evening in the red light district this fall, they are out in force. British women on bachelorette parties stream out of karaoke bars and into brightly lit cafes that serve Nutella on everything. Clusters of French and Spanish teenagers wander over canal bridges, swigging wine bought from convenience stores, while Australian backpackers in coffee shops sample the legal weed.
And locals furiously grip their bike handles, chiming their bells to clear a path through the throng. Since Halsema took office in Julythe city has hired extra security workers to remind tourists to behave and announced a ban on organized tour groups in the area, starting in April Soon, Halsema plans to go further. To alleviate congestion in the area and combat sex traffickingshe has suggested four scenarios: the closure of window brothel curtains to discourage gawking tourists; a reduction in the of windows; the addition of more windows to relieve sidewalk crowding or the end of prostitution in the red light district entirely.
If she moved sex work out of De Wallen, Halsema says she would create a new work space somewhere else, either by relocating the windows or by creating a sex work hotel, where authorities could screen visitors. Around brothel windows closedincreasing the concentration of tourists around the ones that remained. Sex workers say that shifted the atmosphere in the red light district, turning it into a more general tourist area and making it harder to run sex-related businesses.
It also did less tangible damage. This time, though, Halsema says conditions for sex workers are central to her reforms. Closing some windows or shifting everything to a contained, city-run workspace would, Halsema says, make it easier to monitor trafficking than in the porous borders of the red light district. But the government says the fluctuation in reporting rates may be explained by the changing resources allocated to policing and social services in a given year, and the awareness of the public. In recent years, the Internet has given traffickers new ways to do business outside the view of law enforcement, further complicating efforts to accurately count victims.
It is also hard to know if the problem is worse than in other countries, warns Brian Varma, manager at CoMensha, a Dutch non-profit that gathers data on trafficking. The Netherlands registers everyone pd to be a victim by authorities, including some people who have declined to be formally or legally identified as trafficked. Though Halsema concedes that the figures on trafficking are unreliable, she says she feels obligated to do anything she can to reduce trafficking in her city.
Despite concerns from authorities, some sex workers say the window brothels are actually one of the places they feel most empowered to do their job. Thanks to a quirk in the prostitution licensing system, the windows are the only place they can work in Amsterdam without giving a cut of their money to a brothel owner or escort agency—a rule sex worker unions have long argued is unfair. In the windows, workers pay a fixed rent of roughly 90 euros for a nine-hour day shift and for a nine-hour night shift and keep the rest of what they make.
Last year she started a new pressure group, Red Light Unitedto represent workers who use the windows. Jade, 29, who began using the windows three years ago after moving to Amsterdam from outside the E. Few deny that trafficking exists in Amsterdam. Many sex workers and advocates argue, though, that the red light district is one of the safest places in the city to do sex work.
Jade points out that working in the red light district, she is surrounded by her colleagues. Critics of the Swedish model argue it serves only to minimize the visibility of Ladies wants sex Center City work, rather than to make it safer for the women who do it.
Some argue it discourages sex workers from working in pairs or groups because they could be jailed for running brothels. And because the criminalization of buyers pushes people to carry out sex work in isolated spaces out of sight of the authorities, the Swedish model has been blamed for a surge in violent attacks on sex workers in France and Ireland.
A vocal but fairly small minority is pushing for the Netherlands to adopt the Swedish model to address exploitation; Christian feminist campaign group Exxpose has compiled a petition of 50, atures—above the threshold at which parliament must hold a debate. Exxpose cite research that shows Swedish authorities saw s of women working in street prostitution was halved in the decaded following the legislation. Inthe city closed its historic red light area and around prostitution windows on canal boats, promising to look for new sites for window work.
Six years later the plans remain stalled because of the difficulty finding financial backers and resistance from the city council. She has held public meetings on the proposed reforms, inviting local residents and sex workers to weigh in—a step that sets her apart from city authorities, sex workers say. The city council will debate her ideas up, offering opinions on potential risks and benefits of each one.
But Halsema will make the final choice and implement it, likely some time next year. We all have to compromise in the end. For a few months though, the windows and their curtains remain open. The red lights continue to glow. And the debate rages on. Write to Ciara Nugent at ciara. Femke Halsema, mayor of Amsterdam, poses for a photograph in her office in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Nov.
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