Dutch sex workers take charge of their own business

The Hague (AFP) –


Amsterdam sex workers on Thursday launched a project described as unique in Europe -- a brothel run by prostitutes by themselves with no exploitation, thanks to financing from a social investment fund.

"Today we are witnessing a breakthrough in the empowerment of sex workers. It is a dream come true," said spokesman Richard Bouwman.

The project due to open in May 2017, is "the first sex business managed solely by sex workers," he said at the launch in the Dutch capital.

Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000 and sex workers, who are registered with the chamber of commerce, pay taxes on their incomes. Their pimps or handlers must have a permit and often pay a high commission.

The My Red Light project, which involves four buildings comprising 14 of the famous windows looking out onto Amsterdam's notorious red light district, will enable sex workers to use their incomes to improve their social status.

The scheme, which has resulted from a feasibility study carried out at the request of the city authorities last year, is being backed by the philanthropy fund Start Foundation, as well as the Dutch bank Rabobank.

"My Red Light, founded by sex workers, offers self-employed entrepreneurs within the prostitution sector the opportunity to rent work spaces at attractive rates and flexible terms," the project said in a statement.

It is also open to male sex workers and transgender sex workers.

- 'Safe, comfortable place' -

"We want to create a safe and comfortable place for the whole community," said spokeswoman Dinah Bons.

It is set in the heart of Amsterdam's infamous red light district where women and men sit in windows on display hoping to attract customers.

The scheme "wants everyone to feel free to take a seat in the board or to fulfil other management positions. We want to tear down any form of (gender) stereotyping and we are here for everyone who is in this line of work," added Bons.

About 7,000 sex workers ply their trade in Amsterdam with some 75 percent coming from poorer countries, particularly in eastern Europe.

"Profits made from the rental of all 14 windows will be invested in initiatives that seek to improve the social status of sex workers," Bouwman said, adding that workshops will also be offered "to help sex workers work in a safe and professional way.

The scheme is part of Amsterdam city's policy to "make the city's sex work industry clean and safe, and to give sex workers greater independence" and reduce abuse, according to the city's tourist office.