The ‘Red’ in the Red Light District
Have you ever wondered why prostitutes use red lights? It’s because red light makes your skin look smooth and pretty. In the past, the red light was used to hide marks of transmitted sexual diseases, covering up the itchy redness on the skin.
While roaming the Red light district, I found myself chatting with one of the girls in the window. It was early afternoon, and the alley was still quiet. Her name was Nadia, a 22 yr old from Croatia. In a friendly way she asked me to put my camera away, as it would get me into a lot of trouble. Although I was not taking pictures, I took her advice and I quickly put my camera back in my bag. Since she already had [literally] opened the door to a conversation, I asked her if I could ask her some questions, she smiled and said ‘yes’, of course.
Surprisingly enough she had as many questions for me as I had for her! She started by guessing where my mixed up accent was from, asked me what I was doing alone in the alley, and lots of giggles followed after that.
Talking with Nadia felt like we were breaking the law; both of us kept looking left and right. My heart was beating fast and my boots were ready to run. I was afraid we would both get into trouble with some scary looking dudes I’d seen around.
Nadia is quite happy being a prostitute. ‘It’s my choice,’ she tells me. She feels quite safe working in ‘De Wallen’/ Amsterdam Red Light District. Here sex-worker windows can always reject a potential client, so she mostly has had safe experiences. It’s only now and then that a weirdo pops in, she says.
Nadia has a boyfriend, and they have been together for more than a year now. Her only regret has not been able to tell her family back home what she does; they will not accept it and would stop talking to her.
‘It’s a job,’ Nadia says. You can choose the day shift, 10am -7pm, or the evening shift, 10pm – 5am. Registered Prostitutes are not allowed to work double shifts.
‘The average visit to a prostitute in the Amsterdam Red Light District is about 6min. Customers that are into S&M or other kinky stuff take 30 min – 1hr, and are the best-paying ones,’ says Nadia.
Prostitution in the Netherlands has been legalised since the year 2000, as a way to help prevent human trafficking and sex crimes.
Today in The Netherlands, prostitutes have to register as a sex worker as a way to avoid ‘pimps’ or ‘lover-boys’ from abusing them. It also helps the government to keep control of how many prostitutes there are and the hours they work. Only Prostitutes themselves are allowed to book the working rooms. To do that they have to show their work permit as registered prostitutes. Prostitutes also use their permit to buy their own condoms, as they are tax-deductible.
Unfortunately, the new Dutch law has resulted in many local coffee shops and over 100 sex-worker windows shutting down, pushing many sex workers towards illegal work abroad.
Although sex work has been legal in The Netherlands for many years and it isn’t as taboo as it used to be, the stigma around the profession remains.