Rows of windows, bright red lights, and scantily clad women. Some of them are seductively swinging their hips beckoning people closer. Others are seemingly bored, leaning against the window sill playing with their phones. In a maze of dingy alleys customers shuffle alongside tourists and drug dealers alike.
It’s an image that the municipality of Amsterdam wanted to change, even though they are unwilling to comment on it directly.
But according to the Amsterdam City Council’s website, postcode 1012, which houses Amsterdam’s Red Light district, needed a clean-up. The plan, dubbed Project 1012, was meant to “break up the criminal infrastructure and achieve a high-quality and diverse entrance area.” The municipality of Amsterdam redirected us to its website instead of commenting about the project on the phone.
In the short time that Project 1012 has been running it has already transformed the area. Nowadays, window brothels are mixed in between hipster coffee places, ‘edgy’ urban installations showcasing artists, and builders still at work.
But it means something else completely for the sex workers themselves: less work space. From the 477 existing window brothels in 2011, only 293 will be left over after the project ends. And more could go in the future if the government decides so.
In the middle of the Red Light District there is a small building that houses the Prostitution Information Centre in Amsterdam (PIC). Run by Mariska Majoor, it’s the one place other than the window brothels where both sex workers and visitors alike mingle. And they visit for the same reason: chatting with the brunette who was once a sex worker.
“I decided to work in a window because I did not want a guy telling me what to do,” Mariska explained. The now forty-seven year old Mariska started working as a window prostitute when she was just sixteen years old. “ I just wanted to pay rent for the window and no bullshit. I didn’t want to share my money.”
But with windows disappearing rapidly, this might not be an option for long.
“The sex workers are angry” Mariska says. “They feel like they are not being taken seriously. At the same time, business is very low and they say the government is also responsible for that, that they are keeping business away for prostitutes.”
The irony is that the government makes a lot of money through taxing prostitution. The most recent numbers from the CBS show that in 2010, the government earned 540 million euros. So sex workers earning less money isn’t benefiting the government either. Then again, gentrification of the area does wonders for property values, which the government can benefit from.
But the problem for the sex workers remains. While the decreasing number of windows hasn’t caused a rise in rent, it is costing them money. They can’t always get their typical spot, as there are now more girls per window, and regular customers aren’t going to roam around the neighborhood just to find their usual girl. “They will find someone else” Mariska simply states, “but the girls lose their income.”
Problematic, because in the end it’s all about the money. “They will try to find other working possibilities. Legal or illegal,” Mariska says.
By Celine Cornelis and Valia Papadopoulou
Photos taken by Celine Cornelis and Graham Dockery