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'Save Our Windows!': Amsterdam's Plan for the Red Light District Pisses Off Sex Workers

Hundreds of sex workers marched to Amsterdam's city hall on Thursday to protest the closure of their workplace windows in the red light district.
Photo by Mitch Altman

More than 200 sex workers marched, strode, and tottered through the streets of Amsterdam on Thursday to protest against the closing of windows in the city's infamous red light district.

"Don't save us," read a large banner held along the procession. "Save our windows!"

The group finished their demonstration at city hall, where they presented a letter to Mayor Eberhard van der Laan that had been signed by more than400 prostitutes, while more supporters signed an online petition. The declarations urged the authorities to consult sex workers in formulating their plans for the district, while asking them to leave the windows open and act with the group's safety in mind.


About 115 of 500 windows have been closed in recent years, according to the Associated Press. Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since a licensing system was implemented in 2000, but some officials fear that the sex trade has grown out of control.

Related: Why the Netherlands Weed Industry Has Gone Underground

In an ostensible effort to tackle the menace posed by organized crime within Amsterdam, city authorities are cracking down on the prevalence of brothels and drug shops in the red light district. Project 1012, a ten-year redevelopment plan for the district that calls for a reduction in the number of prostitution windows and cannabis "coffeeshops," began in 2008. The name of the initiative refers to the area's postcode.

Police estimate that about 250 people demonstrated against the window closures. This is a small percentage of the total number of licensed and unlicensed sex workers who work in the metropolis, which is estimatedto be between 5,000 and 8,000.

An Amsterdam prostitute from Romania who goes by the name Felicia Anna took part in the protest and wrote about it afterward on her blog, "Behind the Red Light District," including remarks she delivered to Mayor van der Laan when presenting the group's petition to him.

"You always say you care so much about sex workers," she told the mayor. "And that you care about what's happening to us. This is what we want. These are our wishes. If you really care about us, now is the time to prove it. We don't want to hear anymore just nice words, we want to see the changes."


"People are always talking about us," she continued, "but never with us. So here is our list of demands, signed by sex workers. We want project 1012 to stop. We don't want more windows to close down."

Related: Amsterdam's War on Weed

Van der Laan tried to promote efforts he said he had made on behalf of sex workers, including withdrawing a plan for mandatory registration out of concern for their privacy, and working to make it easier for them to open bank accounts and get insurance.

Anna countered that the talk hadn't produced results.

"But beyond that, what is a business bank account, or an insurance for your company worth, if you can't work because you don't have a place to work anymore?" she asked. "And how can we pay for an insurance, that he would so kindly give us, when we can't make any money because he closed down our windows?"

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd Photo via Flickr