DEBATE: Is Legal Prostitution Liberating? Or Exploitative?
Michael and I visited Amsterdam's Red Light District. And we have thoughts!
You and I have been doing a series of debates on different aspects of our travels. Here are some of our most lively recent ones:
I had an idea for a new debate when we were in the Red Light District of Amsterdam.
You know, right where our hotel was located?
Actually, it wasn’t that bad. And it was really interesting.
I confess I was surprised that the Red Light District was so, well, there. It really is a bunch of alleys where woman stand behind glass doors in various states of undress, advertising, er, themselves. If you’re interested, you make eye contact, she opens the door, and you negotiate a price for her time — typically, around €50 for 20 minutes, which can include, yes, sex.
Incidentally, I know all this from online research, not personal experience.
Why did this surprise me? I guess because Amsterdam’s Red Light District is so famous, I thought it would be a bit more tame — more of a tourist attraction. Lap-dances and whatnot. For one thing, I assumed men wouldn’t want to be seen visiting actual prostitutes in such a high-traffic area.
But no, it’s happening, and it’s apparently full-on sex. We saw plenty of men going in and out, with the red curtains being drawn and undrawn; trans women typically use purple lights and purple curtains. Amsterdam really is the poster-child for legalized prostitution.
Here it must be said that the area is very well policed — and there are apparently even more undercover officers that you don’t notice. Photography of the women in the windows is not allowed, and the city has now even banned tours from frequenting this area.
And the patrons are required to wear condoms, and the women’s rooms are full of panic buttons, which immediately call guards who toss out any men who violate the rules — no refunds are given. The women also have their own clinic where they’re regularly tested and treated for STDs.
Not surprisingly, this got you and I talking about the whole notion of “sex work” and legal prostitution, and I know we don’t quite agree.
First, I’ll say that this is an issue where two deep-seated values of mine are kind of in conflict:
The idea that more freedom is usually good and that adults are the best judges of how to live their own lives, but also:
The idea that exploitation is bad and that our planet includes a long, sordid history of women being exploited by men, often in ways that involve sex.
I know a lot of people say, “Just legalize prostitution! That’ll make everything okay!” But now countries throughout Western Europe, including the Netherlands and Germany, have legalized prostitution — and, well, it didn’t make everything okay. The results are mixed, and trafficking is a real problem.
But I think that’s enough set-up for now. What do you think about all of this?
First, “Hallo” is how the Dutch say “hello.” But you probably figured that out, didn’t you?
To be perfectly honest, I had a very negative emotional reaction to the Red Light District. I found it depressing and couldn’t help but feel really bad for the women standing in those windows like products to be purchased.
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