Are there enough window brothels in Amsterdam?
Something the mayor of Amsterdam hinted at, during the protest of prostitutes in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, was the idea that there would be enough window brothels for sex workers. And many people that walk around in the Red Light District always wonder what the problem is. In fact, even some journalists wonder how prostitutes can be complaining that there aren't enough window brothels, if so many of them aren't occupied when they walk through the area.

So what is really going on? Are we, the prostitutes from the Red Light District, just complaining and protesting because we got bored? Or is something else going on? Are there indeed not enough workplaces for window prostitutes in Amsterdam, or is it exaggerated, and we just went to protest for nothing?
To understand these things, we first have to explain the current situation, and the difference between the day and the night time. Because there's a huge difference between working in the day, and the amount of window brothels that are available than, and working in the night and the amount of window brothels that are available during that time.

Supply and demand
First of all, it's a simple questions of supply and demand. If there's less demand, there will be less supply. And the same thing is true about Amsterdam's Red Light District. During the day there is simply less demand for prostitutes, thus resulting in fewer prostitutes working during the day, while during the night there's a very high demand for prostitutes, resulting in much more prostitutes working during the night.
This is partially because Amsterdam's Red Light District is part of the city's nightlife. Just like a bar or a club, you can open up your doors at 10 AM in the morning, but few people will show up. While during the night the crowds start to come in. And that is simply because Amsterdam's Red Light District looks most beautiful during the night. While during the day the red lights hardly contrast with the environment, during the night they set the mood for the entire neighborhood with a red glow lighting up the entire district.

The same area during the day and during the night
Therefore you will find during the day that behind only 25-30% of the windows there are prostitutes standing. A very different view from during the night, when almost behind every window there's a prostitute. And this is because there simply isn't enough demand during the day for 400 prostitutes, while during the night the streets are filled with tourists from all over the world, visiting Amsterdam's most famous neighborhood.

Enough work spaces?
One might say to those prostitutes that complain that they don't have a workplace, that they could work during the day. But fact is that it simply doesn't work like that. The reason only 20-30% of the windows are occupied during the day, is because most prostitutes simply don't make enough money during the day to benefit from it. In fact, many prostitutes that used to work during the nights and that have lost their workplace, tried working during the day, but they all came back on that decision.
The reason? They simply couldn't make enough money during the day, because the prostitutes who were already working during the day, already cover the demand for prostitution, so any newcomers will simple be redundant.  This resulted in the fact that newcomers during the day hardly ever make enough money to cover their costs. In short, it was costing them money, in stead of earning them money, thus resulting in not working during the day, because for most it simply isn't profitable at all. And this is simply because there are less customers during the day, than during the night. And less customers means less demand, and less demand means less supply is needed, thus more prostitutes are just left without work during the day.

But during the night there are plenty of customers. The Amsterdam Red Light District really comes to life during the evening and late hours, thus resulting in also more customers for us. But the problem is of course, that the city of Amsterdam in recent years has closed down more than 100 windows. An estimated 250 women lost their place to work. And not having a place to work during the night, while during the day not making enough money to make a living, this has resulted in a huge pressure on the windows during the night shifts. Girls want to work during the night, but they can't because there are simply more girls than windows.

To give you an example, my brothel owner has about 50 window brothels he rents out to prostitutes. During the day less than half are rented out, because most simply don't make any money during the day. During the nights however, there are waiting lists for women that want a place to work. The waiting list at my office at this moment is about 20 girls, and that's just for the 50 windows they own. There are many more brothel owners in Amsterdam's Red Light District, but almost everyone has waiting lists, some very long ones.
If for each 50 windows in Amsterdam, there would be a waiting list of 20 women, like how there is at my office, this would mean that there are in total about 160 women on a waiting list for a workplace during the night. That, while during the day the brothel owners have a hard time renting out any windows at all, even though windows during the day are much cheaper to rent, 80-110 euro for a day shift while during the night it's around 150-160 euro.

Empty windows
Now, for those of you who have walked in Amsterdam's Red Light District, and are now wondering about the empty windows during the night time, there is the explanation for that. Because just like an apartment or a shop, we rent our window brothels from a company which rents these places out to us, the brothel owners. And just like when you rent an apartment, just because you're not in your apartment at every minute of the day, doesn't mean you're not living there, or that you aren't renting it. And the same is true about empty window brothels during the night times. Even though a window may appear to be empty during the night, all the windows in the Red Light District during the night are being rented out. In fact, like I stated before, there's a waiting list for girls who don't have a room.

Now of course you're wondering why the girl, who rented that window that is empty, isn't working there if she rented a window. Well, there could be a lot of explanations for that. She could for example already have gone home, because she made enough money already, or perhaps it just wasn't her lucky night. Another explanation could be that she hasn't started working yet. Because remember, prostitutes decide when they start working, not the brothel owner.
But a prostitute could also have become sick, not knowing that in advance, while she already paid for her room. Or she could have just decided she wasn't feeling like going to work, or perhaps decided just to take a day off. There are many reasons why a window could be empty, but still be rented out. In the end, it's up to the prostitute herself to decide when, for how long and even if she decides to go to work, regardless of the fact if she paid for the room.

Now of course this may sound unfair to all those prostitutes that don't have a place to work, but than again, you can't force someone out of a place she paid for, to give it to another girl. Once a room is rented out, it is the decision of the sex worker herself to decide if she wants to show up or not. If she doesn't show up, of course this will result in her paying for something she isn't using, but that is her own decision. But because the city has been closing down so many window brothels already, and still wants to close down so many windows, most sex workers have become scared to leave their room even for a day, scared that they might loose their workplace to another girl, and never get a fixed room back for it anymore. Hence the girls pay for their workplace, even when they aren't using it, simply to be sure they still have a workplace once they come back.

If only there were enough workplaces for all those estimated 160 women that don't have a place to work right now. If only someone hadn't decided to close down window brothels, thinking, or at least claiming, it was to fight human trafficking and crimes.
Because reality is, that those 160 women can only wait so long, before they run out of money, and out of options. And than the question will become how to survive? Yes, they could try and go to work somewhere else, but than they would be forced to switch jobs just because the city is closing down windows. And wasn't the whole point of closing down windows to prevent from women being forced into a job in the first place? And that is even assuming they could get a job, because with the huge stigma on sex work, that is a very difficult task.
And even if they could find a job. Most of them won't get a high payed job, so their income will drop enormously from the income they used to receive as a sex worker. And this drop in income results in sex workers not being able to pay for their bills anymore, hence declining those jobs because it doesn't pay their bills.

Illegal prostitution
It should come as no surprise that illegal prostitution (prostitution without a permit) has grown in recent years, as also reports from the Ministry of Safety and Justice has stated (page 147). There is an increase in prostitution happening without a permit, while at the same time Amsterdam is heavily decreasing it's licensed prostitution with about 33,5%. The mayor of Amsterdam refuses to link these two together as what is called the waterbed effect, the effect of prostitutes being forced into illegal prostitution due to the loss of their legal workplace, but to me it seems almost impossible not to come to this conclusion.
After all, about 250 women have lost their legal workplaces in the window brothels. Working in the vacant brothels during the day does not provide enough income to survive, thus resulting in many windows be vacant during the day. While during the night there are waiting lists at brothel owners for when a window becomes available because there aren't enough windows, proving the pressure on these workplaces during the night.

There are no real alternatives for these prostitutes, as switching to another job simply doesn't generate enough income compared to the income they used to have when they were still working behind the windows. The only other alternative would be to continue working in prostitution, though illegal, like for example from their private homes or in hotels because that's the only way they can still generate the income to survive. This would also explain the increase in unlicensed prostitution (so called illegal prostitution) that the research of the government has noticed. And we have also seen this already happening in Utrecht after they closed down 165 window brothels, which resulted in an increase of illegal prostitution in local hotels.
Illegal prostitution seems to be one of the few alternatives a large group of prostitutes have had, as also in the rest of the country legal prostitution has been reduced with 40%, as the report from the government has stated. That, while the same reports also states that if there are abuses happening, such as human trafficking, exploitation, coercion and underage prostitution, they are far more likely to happen in illegal prostitution than in the legalized industry.

250 women have lost their workplace in recent years in Amsterdam's Red Light District, with 117 window brothels closing down. And while an estimated 160 of them are putting enormous pressure on the window brothels that are still available during the nights (working during the day simply isn't profitable enough), this still begs the question where the other 90 women have gone too?
And let's not forget that it's very well possible that from those 160 women that are on the waiting list with brothel owners in Amsterdam, also a portion of them will perhaps be working in illegal prostitution until a workplace will be free behind the windows. After all, some women have been on the waiting list for a long time, for some work spaces the waiting time is months long, and they may not be able to to wait that long before they get into financial problems, thus resulting in more illegal prostitution, of which the government has just stated that it's less safe there. In short, is mayor Eberhard van der Laan really helping us or pushing us further into trouble, with closing down more windows, even if it are 'less windows' than he originally planned?

Dutch version


3 Responses
  1. Frans Says:

    Let's take this one step further.

    Assume the (next) mayor is realistic, sex work supportive, fair, and begins on the basis of equality serious talks and negotiations with the sex workers (Proud) and operators/owners about a size of the Wallen (the number of workplaces) that would be acceptable to sex workers and city.
    What 'ideal' number of workplaces would the sex workers propose, based on their current experience with the demand, and keeping in mind that the average sex worker should have the chance to a fair average number of clients on a monthly basis. If the current number is not enough, what number would be right?
    And what would be the verifiable facts and other arguments that sex workers would present to substantiate their proposed 'ideal' number of workplaces?
    Has anyone from the sex workers community every tried to argue, based on facts, what number of sex workers and workplaces would reasonably fit a city the size of Amsterdam with its 'specialty' sex work as a tourist attraction?
    In other words: what total number of sex work places at the 3 existing Red Light Districts would keep demand and supply in balance, according to current and former sex workers? And why?


  2. Vanessa Says:

    Buna,numele meu este Roxana si mi-as dori sa port o discutie cu tine legata de prostitutie ,de aceea ti-am scris si pe facebook si te-as ruga mult daca poti sa-mi raspunzi,o zi buna iti doresc!


  3. bluelionman Says:

    Very interesting read and I have no clue what the answer is as so many countries still stigmatise this work and make it totally illegal.

    I myself wish it was not so frowned upon as I'm a guy, horny and been single a long time and would be nice to go somewhere and have some company and get off but have to say my one experience of your RLD was horrid about 3 years ago and I guess I was unlucky but I found it very expensive and clearly the women was 100% about the money - I'd think there's at least be good actresses but by design I think it was they got ya money now get you gone!

    Not what I was looking for - not sure what I expected tbh but it was not vfm and hence never been back!


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    Romanian prostitute working in the Red Light District in Amsterdam (De Wallen), speaking out for the truth behind prostitution. Blogging about prostitution, human trafficking, forced prostitution, politics and all the myths surrounding it. Member of PROUD, the Dutch union of sex workers.