Have A Vice Day

Deborah Hobson 

Red light
Amsterdam’s 800-year-old notorious 'red light' district held its first “open day” at the weekend in a desperate bid to allay growing public alarm and a call by city councillors for its closure amid disturbing reports of forced prostitution, human trafficking and gang violence. Hundreds of tourists and local people took advantage of free entry to twenty five peep-shows and brothels, seizing the opportunity to see a prostitute’s bedroom, watch a short live peep-show or chat to a lap dancer.


Mariska Majoor, event organiser and a former prostitute who now runs an information centre in the region said: “The day is partly to promote the red light district but also to help change the image of the area because we think it is too negative”.

 Prostitution has had full legal status in the Netherlands since 2000, where sex workers are regarded as self employed and subject to income tax. However, civil rights groups state that as many as three thousand five hundred women are transported illegally each year to the Netherlands from eastern Europe and Asia to work in ‘underground’ brothels or escort agencies and are often held against their will and abused.  Until now, Amsterdam’s cluster of sex shops, parlours and neon lights have been as popular with visitors as the country’s museums, galleries and historical landmarks. Indeed, the novice “punters” to the “open day” revelled in the experience. Beaming Dutchman Maarten Ritsema, 28, said: “This is a very good idea” after his encounter at lap-dance venue “Bar La Vie en Proost”. He added: “I’ve never been inside anywhere like this before…it’s pretty casual, not as tense or hostile as I imagined”.

Resident Ina van Leyan, 49, hoped the vice district would never be closed down. She said: “It belongs to Amsterdam. Its for the tourists, it’s for the men without wives, it’s a key part of the city”.

Unfortunately, for those (men) in the UK salivating at the prospect of similar freebies in areas like Soho, London, it may be many more years before we emulate Amsterdam. In plans which make London seem archaic in comparison, the Home Office announced last month its intention to allow prostitutes to work together in mini-brothels. At present, only a single prostitute working from home or a room escapes prosecution provided she does not solicit for business. The Government aims to change the legal definition to allow three individuals, including a “maid” or receptionist, to work together, decriminalising small brothels. Ministers said the aim was to make prostitutes safer from attack.

Does anyone remember Cynthia  Payne, “Madam Cyn” of Streatham, south London, UK?