Truth About Amsterdam’s Red Light District

This article recaps my experience with Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Caution: there are some disturbing facts in this article. 

Last week when hubbs and I were in Amsterdam, we finished a cup of coffee at Koffie Schenkerij and decided it was probably time to head out. We were walking along the Google Maps route home when I noticed a woman wearing a bikini holding a door open at what I presumed was a sports bar. I looked up to catch the name of it and noticed there was no name on the building.

But the stores to the left and right of it both had two familiar words: “red” and “light.” I paused in my steps, and then it clicked. We somehow had gone from the Anne Frank House to a quaint coffee shop to the Red Light District. I could hear church bells tolling one street away near our tram stop and started to get a churning sensation in my stomach. Were we really in the Red Light District?

With that new realization in my mind, suddenly every dark thing about the street started to crawl into my vision. My eyes were unconsciously zoning in on the men entering these buildings. I tried my best not to make eye contact with any of the women in the window cells (fish tanks, as they call them), but sometimes it was inevitable. One woman threw me a flirty and honestly creepy look, while the other looked quiet and uncomfortable. The second one made me anxious and left me wondering whether it was her choice to be there or not.

We were surrounded by sex shops, sex shows, brothels, and theaters; posters of nude women and men littered the walls. What was so odd and very gross to me about this was that in between these brothels and theaters were normal stores like a poster store, a bakery for fresh bread, and a boutique for summer dresses. I couldn’t understand how this was a legalized, normal profession. I did some research to see if cities that legalized prostitution saw decreased rates in trafficking, but there is no defined correlation. Some women are still coerced into the profession, while others choose it.

It was sad seeing women so young in an occupation like that.
It was gut-wrenching seeing men line up and walk in.
It was eerie hearing the church just one street away.

I’m not judging the profession these women have or thinking they are less than me in any way. I also understand some cultures don’t have access to the education and opportunities I was blessed with. For the women and men who choose that path, I can’t say I understand the desire for a career like that, but I refuse to judge you. For those who don’t choose it, I hope you are rescued and provided for soon, and you are who I am writing this for.

I did some research about the women and men who fill the “shops” in Amsterdam, and apparently ~70 percent are immigrants, many without immigration papers. According to this site, the most common scenario is that these men and women come to the Netherlands in order to make money to send home to their families. For the most part, they know that they will be working in prostitution, but they have no idea that it will be as “coercive” or violent as it is—or that they’ll have to pay so much money to so many people (the owner of the brothel, a “bodyguard,” a pimp, etc.).

After they get to Amsterdam, they find that they have debts to pay for their transportation, passports, etc. before they can leave. When they ARE able to send money home, they do so. This is similar to the way many construction-working immigrants in Dubai are treated, but I’ll write more on that later.

Trafficking is a real horror, and it’s only growing in every country. Did you know that today there are more slaves than there were 200 years ago? There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves throughout the world today. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80 percent are female and half are children.

What does that tell you about us a society? For the most part, we assume it is someone else’s problem. But NO action is an action; we are allowing this to happen. We are accepting that this is just a sin of the world and that one day, someone somewhere will take care of it. But I disagree. I think we can make a difference today, and I believe sex shouldn’t be used for evil.

As with all good things, I believe the world and sin try to taint what God initially created for good. I refuse to sit tolerantly. I refuse to watch or read Fifty Shades of Grey because I think it’s a perversion of what was meant to be a joyful union between man and woman. And yes, I think sex should be between two consenting, married adults because it was created for the incredibly sacred commitment of marriage. I know many people who disagree with me, some of them who are very close to me, but thankfully, a difference in opinion doesn’t hinder my ability to love them and hopefully doesn’t hinder theirs. One thing we can all agree on is that forced sex is wrong.

Here are some ways you can take down trafficking:

1. Educate yourself. Feel the weight of this. I know there are a lot of dark things that go on in this world, and in your mind you might be thinking, “I can’t help everyone.” I get that, but don’t be ignorant of reality. An appropriate response/call to action looks different for everyone, but you need to be aware.

2. Start in your city. I promise you that there are programs in the city you are currently in that are helping people who have just come out of trafficking or who are still in the midst of it. All you have to do is ask magical Google.

3. Get online. There are numerous organizations online you can become a part of and contribute to monetarily or with your time. Many fair trade businesses benefit women who are coming out of slavery by supplying them with jobs. Don’t be a passive online user; be active! PLEASE for the love of all that is good, don’t “like” something and call it a day with your humanitarian efforts.

4. Put your hands together and pray. In a world that is infatuated with the conflict between Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian, let’s put those fighting words against the real enemies. Pray for physical, spiritual, and emotional wholeness for sex trafficking survivors. Pray for their safety. As James 5:16 notes, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

My hope for these men and women is that they would be given opportunities. Rich opportunities that do not require emotional/mental damage and service with their bodies. I pray that God would provide for their households so that they may remove themselves from such a path. I pray that God the Father who loves each and every one of his children would rescue them from entrapment. Hopefully, he will restore those who are freed with the fact that there is justice coming.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

What are some ways you think you can help out in your neighborhood/city/world?


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