Safe to say, most mayors don’t spend their days conducting opening ceremonies for brothels.
But in Amsterdam, one of the only cities in the world where prostitution is legal, it’s a political move that many consider humanitarian.
Which is why a new brothel, which is being opened today in the Netherlands capital, was approved by the city council members in an effort to improve working conditions for local sex workers.
The business model is different from those of other operations in the famous red light district because the project is entirely conceptualized and run by the sex workers themselves, through a foundation called My Red Light.
“Everything in this project, from the statutes to the decoration of the rooms, is thought out by sex workers,” one of the participating prostitutes told The Guardian. “It is my hope that My Red Light will offer pleasant workspaces, where sex workers can be who they are and feel welcome.”
About 40 sex workers are employed by the brothel, which occupies 14 “windows” and four buildings.
It’s a concept in line with the city’s long-standing efforts to make sex work as safe as possible — which is why they legalized it in the first place in 2000.
Politicians had hoped that by legalizing the trade they would be able to better monitor the businesses — collecting taxes, regulating health and safety standards, and ensuring that workers received fair pay.
It was less successful than hoped, though, and the city remains a prominent destination for human trafficking.
By hiking rent costs and pitting workers against each other, landlords and pimps have maintained tight control of the industry despite legal provisions for prostitutes.
Officials hope that My Red Light will help shift that power imbalance by eliminating the need for third parties.
“Sex workers will determine their own rental terms and working hours,” Marieke de Ridder, one of the project’s board members, said. “There will also be more social control, because the sex workers in My Red Light will be more involved with each other.
One of the amenities suggested by the employees includes a living room in which the sex workers can gather, drink tea, and help each other navigate client negotiations and unpleasant interactions.
The business has been nicknamed the “municipal brothel” because of Mayor Eberhard van der Lann’s support — but the city’s prostitution program manager, Sonja Pol, has clarified that the city’s involvement will be limited now that the business is up and running.
“The mayor has done everything within his powers to help to start up the project: a feasibility study, risk assessment, getting the right parties around the table, finding investors and financiers,” Pol said. “But we now don’t play any role in the project any more – just monitoring it for the next two years.”
The new brothel will have bigger and more colorful rooms than most of the other businesses in the area and its employees will have the opportunity to attend classes on a variety of topics — including massage and accounting.
But not everyone is convinced of the project’s merits.
“Prostitution is a form of sexual exploitation, and even in a controlled environment there can be no guarantees of ‘clean’ prostitution,” Karin Werkman, a researcher who specializes in the sex industry, said.
“The only people who benefit from this are the sex buyers. They can tell themselves that by going to this place they are making use of ‘clean’ prostitution. But that really is an illusion.”
Other measures being proposed by the government to help the city’s 5,500 sex workers include implementing a national register, raising the minimum working age from 18 to 21, and holding both landlords and customers legally accountable for illegal violations.
Next, learn why knowing the history of porn matters, according to experts. Then, read about the Dutch city council that proposed mandatory contraception for “incompetent” mothers.