Sex for sale – right out in public like an ice-cream store or a fruit and vegetable stand. This is not something you'll see too often.
When I traveled with my family to Amsterdam, I figured the red light district was something we might as well see while we were there. We set out one night after dinner, during the long European summer twilight.
The red-light district is located in one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam, with historic architecture, winding alleys, and dark canals. You know you've arrived when you start to see the red lit windows which stand out easily against the old, dark buildings. The main thoroughfares have some red windows, but most are located in narrow alleys, lined up one after the other, like rows of teeth.
Each window opens into a small room with a bed and a washstand visible. The window is full-length and spans the width of the room. The young woman stands in the window, clearly visible due to the red lights in the room. The woman are more covered up than what you will see on many a public beach. The outfits are more like two-piece bathing suits than sexy lingerie (although there are exceptions). There is no actual nudity. A heavy curtain stands at the side, to be drawn over the window when the room is in use.
Although there are certainly plenty of men around (generally in groups), the area is part of a city like any other, with all types of people walking around. There are other tourist attractions present, from ancient churches to nightclubs, restaurants and shops.
I had my kids with me, all teens, and after five minutes, we'd seen enough. On our way out, we saw a particularly long, narrow alley, jammed with people, and lined on both sides by the windowed rooms. The cobblestoned alley was only wide enough for one person to walk between the old buildings.
My oldest, game for anything, wanted to walk down the bustling alley. My youngest flat-out refused to go and I was in sympathy with her. It was creepy. Generally, we didn't look at the women. Here, it would be hard to escape viewing them (hence, the popularity of this alley?)
So hubby took off after the oldest and the rest of us waited at the end. Suddenly, we saw them rushing back towards us, the oldest pale, hubby laughing.
"What happened?" I asked.
"A man stopped me," my intrepid daughter reported. "He said, 'How much?' I ran away as fast as I could."
I was horrified.
"Don't worry," my husband said. "I was right there."
That was the end of our adventure.
I guess I'm not sorry I did this, but it was a sadder and more disturbing experience than I had anticipated.
The girls we saw looked like they were from Eastern Europe. Do they do this to escape worse circumstances? Or, as reported in the research I did, are they lured into the business by boyfriends?
Wikipedia reports that many of the girls are also from Asia and Africa, but I saw little evidence of that. Perhaps they are concentrated in areas we didn't reach.
One last note: Our vacation guidebook had mentioned that there were "Pimp-free" signs in some windows certifying that the woman was working for herself and not for a pimp. I was interested to see one of these signs. Alas, I never did. Not one. Was it a short-lived experiment? Is it possible for a female sex worker to operate without the protection of a man? I don't know the answers.