When most foreigners mention Amsterdam, two things first come to mind– weed and the Red Light District.
While I wasn’t exactly excited to investigate the weed scene, I was really interested in visiting the infamous Red Light District, especially because I had no idea what to expect.
It was almost a little tricky to find, because nothing made the area stand out from a distance.
Groups of tourists lined the streets just like everywhere else in the city. Some were on educational tours, some from bachelor parties, and some who, like me, were simply curious, cautiously peering into windows from a distance.
Unlike other Red Light Districts I’ve wandered through around the world, the RLD in Amsterdam looked beautiful. The area is one of the oldest in the city and the architecture is gorgeous around the church situated there. It’s hard to wrap your mind around what you’re really seeing as you’re strolling up and down beautiful tree-lined canals. It just didn’t seem seedy or trashy like I’d imagined it would.
We arrived, relatively, early to the area on a Friday night. It was still daylight at 8pm, but we could tell the atmosphere was quickly changing as the sun began to set and the red lights glared brighter. Some of the windows who had older women in them were quickly being replaced by younger, more attractive women.
Already almost all of the curtains were closed and the girls remaining we becoming more aggressive by the minute, tapping on the windows to passerby, trying to earn their next quick 50 euros.
We saw guys being egged on by their friends to step up and inquire at the window. One went as far to offer a girl mere change that she angrily chucked out into the canal– which quickly grabbed her body guard’s attention.
It was almost awkward watching this exchange of cat and mouse. Guys wandering in and out of the same window, only to finally succumb to pressure and be whisked away behind the curtains.
We only walked up and down the strip for about 20 minutes. Along the way we found ourselves in the middle of a guided tour, so we decided to hang back and listen. I just wanted to understand more. I tried to put myself in the girl’s shoes but it was hard to really wrap my head around it. I continually wondered what their backstory was and how they ended up here– almost all of them looked like they were from Eastern European countries instead of the Netherlands.
It’s hard to tell what the true conditions of this so-called “legal prostitution” are. As sex tourism continues to rise in Amsterdam, so does illegal human trafficking. I know there are supposed to be rules and regulations, making it safer for the girls, but you still can’t help to wonder what’s really going on even past the red curtains.
Even if they are there on their own accord and happy with their jobs, watching tourists walk down the street, pointing and giggling over the girls behind the doors, it all just felt a little weird.[divider]