Amsterdam - Red Light District

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.
8 Responses
  1. Jane Sevier Says:

    One of the women we saw in the red light district there was sitting in a rocking chair, knitting. That seemed totally incongruous.

    Of course, a lot of things are legal in
    Amsterdam that aren't here.


  2. Carly Carson Says:

    Jane, that does seem odd. It must work for her, though.


  3. Roz Lee Says:

    Oh my! This is a side of legalized prostitution that I've not heard about. I'm not sure I want to see this, now that I've read your post. I'd still like to see the country, though.
    Thanks for sharing, and for being honest about what you saw.


  4. Carly Carson Says:

    Rox, there are many charming aspects to the Netherlands. I felt a little badly about posting something negative. You can always read my earlier, lighter post about bicycling in Amsterdam. It's a funner, cooler aspect of the city.
    http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=14738657&postID=2460895222289964853


  5. Nicole North Says:

    This is interesting. I don't think I'd want to visit the district though. It is disturbing if the women are not in the business by choice. Although not really funny, I had to laugh about your daughter and husband. Sounds like a snare I'd accidentally get myself into. LOL


  6. Carly Carson Says:

    Nicole, I don't think any of us expected propositions in the street since there is a legal system set up for transacting business. Dd is quite reckless but she didn't expect that. BTW, the women are licensed and pay taxes.


  7. Terry Spear Says:

    Wow, Carly! I've heard about this, but can't believe your daughter was solicited! Well, then again, I can. World's oldest profession.

    Where I live was one of only 2 places that had legal prostitution in the old days. Until the Army moved in, and then they wanted the place cleaned up!


  8. Carly Carson Says:

    Terry, I think it looked like she was alone because of the way you had to walk single file. To pass, both people had to turn sideways. It was really tight. I'm glad hubby was right there. I did read that there's a lot of security in the area (not noticeable to me) and some of the girls hire their own.


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