Amsterdam considering bank help for prostitutes

Fri Jul 3, 2009 6:17am EDT

By Ben Berkowitz

AMSTERDAM (Reuters Life!) – Amsterdam city council is turning its attention to a pressing problem for one of the city’s key business sectors — banking and credit for prostitutes who can’t get accounts from mainstream institutions.

The city’s red light district is famed the world over for its women in tiny windows and even tinier clothing, but despite the trade being legal, many banks shy away from taking the ladies on as customers.

As part of the city’s “Project 1012” to remake the De Wallen neighborhood, which includes the sex district, the city council has been asked to find a way to help bordello owners and sex workers gain more access to banks. Continue reading


Prostitutes may get bailout in Amsterdam

July 3, 4:22 PM

Prostitution: Often called the worlds oldest profession, but times are tough, yes, even for prostitutes!

It seems that the prostitutes in Amsterdam can’t get bank accounts or loans from mainstream institutions according to a Reuters report.

The Amsterdam city council making an effort to solve this pressing problem for one of the city’s key business sectors. Banking and credit for prostitutes who can’t get accounts from mainstream institutions is their main concern. Well, at least some businesses have scruples! Continue reading

Bruno opens Amsterdam “pink light” brothel

Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:22pm EDT

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in his latest incarnation as a gay Austrian fashion reporter, jet skied through a canal into Amsterdam’s red light district on Friday to open a brothel full of men in thongs ahead of the Dutch premiere of ‘Bruno’.

“For too long, guys coming here from around the world have been forced to have sex with women,” Cohen said, standing in front of a pink-lit brothel building in the Dutch capital as surprised tourists and stag party goers looked on. Continue reading

Amsterdam to close many brothels, marijuana cafes

By TOBY STERLING, Associated Press Writer Toby Sterling, Associated Press Writer Sat Dec 6, 12:11 pm ET
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that “generate criminality,” including gambling parlors, and the so-called “coffee shops” where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.
Continue reading

The oldest conundrum

Policing prostitution

The red lights are going out all over Europe—but not elsewhere

From The Economist print edition


WHEN the Netherlands legalised brothels eight years ago, the mood was upbeat. Politicians thought they were well on the way to solving one of the world’s perpetual policy dilemmas: how to stop all the bad things that are associated with the sex trade (coercion, violence, infectious diseases) while putting a proper, and realistic, limit to the role of the state.

The Dutch were hoping that links between prostitution and multiple forms of crime, from money laundering to smuggling, could finally be severed. Ultimately, they believed, the buying and selling of sexual services would become a freely undertaken transaction, in which the state would only be involved as a regulator and tax-collector. The police could then concentrate on criminals, instead of harassing people engaged in exchanges that were nobody’s business but their own.


While the Dutch experiment was beginning, another European country was trying out a different approach. From 1999 onwards, Sweden began penalising people who patronise prostitutes (through fines, jail terms of up to six months, and “naming and shaming”), while treating people who sell their bodies as victims.

All over the world—especially in rich democracies—policymakers have been watching the two places to see which philosophy works best. In reality, neither is a silver bullet; neither country has found a perfect way of shielding prostitutes from exploitation and violence, while avoiding a nanny-state. So the arguments rage on, from liberal New Zealand to San Francisco, where people will vote on November 4th on virtually decriminalising the sex trade.

In Amsterdam—where the spectacle of half-naked women pouting behind shopfront windows is a city trademark—the link between prostitution and organised crime has proved durable. Efforts to break it have been a “complete failure”, says Lodewijk Asscher, a deputy mayor who has led the city hall’s effort to buy up and transform much of the red-light district.

Fresh arguments in favour of his campaign emerged from a report published in July by Dutch police and prosecutors. It drew heavily on the case of three Turkish-German vice barons who were sentenced recently to long prison terms for running a ring of 120 prostitutes in three Dutch cities. Their operation included many of the ghastly practices that the liberal law was supposed to stamp out.

Saddled with fictitious debts, the women under the barons’ control were made to take 20 clients a day, subjected to forcible breast enlargements and tattooed with the names of their “owners”. Such exploitation is not exceptional: the policemen who patrol Amsterdam’s red-light district reckon that more than half the ladies posing in windows are there against their will.

All that helps to explain why the Swedish experience is finding imitators in several countries—including England and Wales where people will soon be liable to prosecution for “paying for sex with someone forced into prostitution…or controlled for another’s gain”. It is also becoming easier for English and Welsh police to prosecute people (either pedestrians or motorists) who solicit sex on the street. In Scotland, kerb-crawling was banned a year ago. The British moves were made after studying the Dutch and Swedish experience.

But what is really happening in Sweden? The policy of penalising clients or “johns” enjoys widespread consent. It was introduced by a centre-left administration, despite opposition from the centre-right. Now it is accepted by all Sweden’s main parties. The authorities say the number of streetwalking prostitutes fell about by 40% during the first four years of the new regime. Swedish politicians say they have made their country a bad destination for traffickers. But a sceptic might retort that by driving prostitution away from Sweden, the authorities have simply exported it, sending sex-hungry Swedes to nearby countries or else to Thailand.


It’s dark underground

Moreover, a sex-workers’ association in Sweden says the law makes life dangerous for those who ply their trade secretly. A life of dodging between apartments and exchanging furtive texts can leave women more reliant on pimps. Another argument is that fear of prosecution reduces the chances that clients will report the exploitation of under-age girls or boys.

Some drawbacks of doing things the Swedish way have been noted in more established quarters. A report by Norway’s justice ministry, in 2004, cited evidence of an “increased fear of attack” among Swedish prostitutes, who found it harder to assess their clients because transactions had to be agreed hastily or on the telephone. But for Norway, it seems, these considerations have been trumped by others, including a sense that prostitution is getting out of control after an influx from Africa, South America and eastern Europe. The Norwegian parliament is on the verge of mandating Swedish-style penalties for buying sex. In a similar spirit, Italy’s cabinet has agreed to outlaw prostitution in public and make penalties harsher.

In Europe, then, things are moving towards tighter regulation—in part because many of the continent’s richer countries feel inundated by a wave of newcomers to the trade, some of whom are trafficked. But there are other places where more liberal voices seem to be gaining the upper hand.

In the United States, trading in sex is a misdemeanour, at least, almost everywhere, with the exceptions of Rhode Island (where it can take place only indoors, but not in brothels); and, most famously and brashly, in parts of Nevada. So if residents of San Francisco vote for “Proposition K”—which would bar police from taking action against sex workers—it will be a landmark in American history.

Supporters of the change (including sex-workers’ unions) say it will transform the role of the police. Instead of pointlessly arresting prostitutes, the police can help them stay healthy and protect them from violence. Advocates of a “no” vote say that if the hands of the police are tied, they will be unable to deal even with obvious cases of abuse. Some say the Dutch experience has made nonsense of the case for liberalisation. Others say Proposition K could lead to a worse situation than the Netherlands’: a free-for-all without the Dutch level of regulation and social security.

But for liberals in search of success stories, New Zealand appears to provide more promising evidence. In 2003, that country decriminalised the sex trade with a boldness that exceeded that of the Dutch. Sex workers were allowed to ply their trade more or less freely, either at home, in brothels or on the street.

A study published by the government in May, measuring the impact of the new law, was encouraging. More than 60% of prostitutes felt they had more power to refuse clients than they did before. The report reckoned that only about 1% of women in the business were under the legal age of 18. And only 4% said they had been pressured into working by someone else.

The report also acknowledges one distinct advantage enjoyed by New Zealand. Although some illegal immigrants are engaged in the sex trade, the country’s isolation and robust legal system make it relatively free from the problem of trafficking, at least by European standards.

But there is also a big difference between the policy of New Zealand and that of other places where prostitution is legal. In the Netherlands and Nevada, the business is confined to brothels, which are usually run by businessmen rather than the sex workers themselves.

Clearly, the brothel-masters’ status as the sole legal providers of commercial sex enhances their grip on the women who work for them. In New Zealand, prostitutes can fend for themselves. As well as letting them keep all their earnings, this independence gives them freedom to reject nasty clients and unsafe practices. “They feel better protected by the law and much more able to stand up to clients and pushy brothel operators,” says Catherine Healy, head of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective.

Unsurprisingly, the New Zealand system’s critics include brothel owners, both in that country and elsewhere. Going with a girl outside a licensed establishment is like “Russian roulette”, says the website of the Chicken Ranch, a brothel that serves the Las Vegas crowd. In New Zealand, one brothel keeper fumes that the earnings of independent sex workers are “tax-free money, which is not benefiting the Inland Revenue Department”.

What about other interested parties—such as respectable Kiwis who resent kerb-crawlers? According to polls, people are sure the number of prostitutes has risen—although the government says this is not true. Auckland city council is trying to allay public concerns by restricting brothels to commercial and industrial areas. Something similar happens in Nevada, where only the smaller counties may host brothels, and they are kept away from town centres. (Such curbs have some bad effects; prostitutes say they are stranded in the desert, totally reliant on brothel owners.)

In any case, one unusual investigation concluded that from the prostitutes’ point of view, the New Zealand system was the fairest. A pair of British grandmothers from the Women’s Institute—a homely club that is more often associated with cooking tips—made a tour of brothels in the Netherlands, America and the Antipodes: their aim was to find which system was best for the women who worked in the business. Their top marks went to a discreet house in a suburb of Wellington—classed in New Zealand as a “small owner-operated brothel”—where two women offered their services from Mondays to Fridays. “Just like a regular job,” one of the grannies noted.

Vancouver: Should prostitution be legalized?

Kailey Willetts, Cody Willett 01/10/08

Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society has launched a challenge against sections in the B.C. Supreme Court that forbid the operation of sex-work houses (brothels), in a hope to decriminalize prostitution.

Two Martleteers weigh in on the pros and cons of legalizing the world’s oldest profession.

Kailey Willetts: Prostitution is a profession, yes, but it is a profession stigmatized with many negative connotations.

Prostitutes are often viewed as dirty and drugged out, unable to make their way in life with a “regular” job.

However, the very conditions that give prostitution its negative connotations (the drugs, the STDs, the beatings from pimps) could be avoided if prostitution was decriminalized and regulations on the industry imposed.

Cody Willett: The answer to persistent social problems like prostitution is neither regulated decriminalization, nor tough on crime stances. It has been, and always will be, smart policy aimed at the root of the problem.

The sad existence of a prostitute is due to the fact that they operate in an environment of exploitation and violence at the hands of men.

Therefore, we need to criminalize the buying of sex and decriminalize the selling of sex, while offering support for women trying to get out.

Kailey Willetts: Prostitution is inevitable, whether or not the buying is criminal, the selling decriminalized, or vice-versa.

As long as there are men and women wanting to buy sex, there will be men, women and even children selling it.

If it is criminal to buy sex it will be done behind closed doors, in alley ways and dirty hotel rooms without any sanctions protecting the prostitutes.

The exploitation and violence won’t end if there is demand for the sex trade unless it is decriminalized and controlled in safe, clean environments.

With decriminalization, prostitutes would no longer be people who have been manipulated into the trade by pimps for food, drugs and survival, but workers in a valid profession who have the right to choose what they do with their bodies.

Cody Willett: By talking about regulations and control, we’re really just talking about legalization (and ultimately taxation) here.

The Netherlands has taken this approach and seen some improvements in living standards for prostitutes.

However, human trafficking into the sex trade, inevitably linked to criminal organizations, flourishes and facilitates disproportional exploitation of the women and children pushed into selling sex.

Sweden has seen an astonishing reduction in trafficking and prostitution in general by criminalizing the purchase of sex.

You can glamourize and sanitize the sex trade, but making it easier for women to take up brothel work is defeatist when we could be getting them help and education, and ultimately off their backs.

Kailey Willetts: It is not up to society as a whole to impose the moral attitude that prostitutes should be getting “off their backs.”

For many, the sex trade is a choice, and society hasn’t always dictated that this is an immoral profession.

In Ancient Greece, for example, high-class courtesan prostitutes called hetaerae had the freedom to culture their minds beyond what was typically allowed for women and enjoyed respect in society.

The Moulin Rouge, built in 1889, started its life as a high class brothel before being transformed into a night club. The stigmatization attached to prostitution is not naturally ingrained into humanity, but has developed in Western society.

Even today, places like Amsterdam show that not all prostitutes are manipulated into the trade through drug addiction and violence, but have made a choice to embrace this profession.

If you happen to be a nympho, what better way is there to make a living?

Cody Willett: This has nothing to do with morality.

Prostitutes are metaphorically on their backs as long as society treads on them while they’re down and out.

Canada jails prostitutes for living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in a public place for the purpose of selling their bodies.

Men who take advantage of women who “choose” to sell their sexual services over starvation must be the ones society punishes.

Make all the nympho jokes you want, but the social costs of young women aspiring only to peddle poonani are incredibly steep.

Can’t we inspire them to be part of the solution to society’s problems by making it easier to become teachers, community organizers and elected leaders? Do we really want to legislate the bar lower?

As long as we allow men the option of buying, selling and thereby exploiting women, gender equality will remain an elusive goal.

Netherlands: Bonus points for prostitutes

(translated from the original Dutch)

Eindhoven [a city in the Netherlands-PT] wants to tackle prostitution and called in the help of designers. This provides for some unorthodox ideas.


Prostitutes who honor their agreements with aid workers and participate in workshops, for example, get credit points. Then they can buy stuff via the city.

It is one of the proposals of the city of Eindhoven is considering to tackle prostitution. The city wants to provide training to women and in that way get them out of prostitution.

The plans do not come from officials, but from designers. Eindhoven wants to play a leading role in the field of design. “Design goes”, according to the city,  “beyond the design of a vase or chair. Also social problems can be tackled through design”, believes alderman Marriette Mittendorff (CDA).

“You do not think immediately to design when you think of a prostitution zone. Someone on the board thought we would give little whores nice clothes. But actually design means nothing other than that you bring things back to their essence and begin tfrom there to give form”, explained Mittendorff. Designers, according to her, are in a better position to think from the perspective of the prostitutes themselves and to ignore predudicial processes at cityhall.

[in the Netherlands it is still common for the press to use the term hoer/whore, in this case the term I translated was hoertjes. In Dutch adding tjes/jes to the end of a word is a way of making it cute, small or undermining its status. For example mannetje is sometimes used to describe a “little man or boy”, it can be both sweet or derogatory -PT]

The coalition party of the CDA, PvdA and SP don’t believe that the lives of street prostitutes has been greatly improved on the city controlled zone. “The ladies have passes, it looks clean and care is good, but this is not the way it should be” says Mittendorf. “As a city we should not be creating street prostitution. These women are all addicted. But if you close the zone you just move the problem. “

The city therefore called on the help of the Eindhoven Design Academy and the Cologne International School of Design. The students sought contact with prostitutes, for example by shopping with them. Students from the Design Academy suggested, among other things, to create a mobile zone, so that the problems are not concentrated in one place. Others suggested bringing prostitution back to the centre of the city and society for example in a parking garage.

Eindhoven eventually committed to a plan from Cologne with the name ‘Vitality’. Coaches will help prostitutes to bring more structure in their lives. Through the point system, they are rewarded for participating in activities. For example, there are workshops where women are able to learn a variety of skills. The municipality will also provide a location where they can meet each other. Helping to maintain the meeting space means earning extra points. For those who want it they can get help finding other work.

The Red Thread, representative organization for prostitutes, is enthusiastic about the plan. Spokeswoman Metje Blaak: “what a good idea, don’t give addicted prostitutes money, but points.” She recommends that the prostitutes be guided in the direction of “exciting professions.” “Often ex-prostitutes miss the adrenaline. Make sure they have work where they need to perform, but in a healthy way.”

Tuesday, the Commission on Youth and Family will discuss the details of this approach. The alderman hopes to begin next month. In June 2011 she wants to close the Zone.