While visiting The Netherlands, I took a tour of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Photographs were not allowed. So for anyone wanting to better understand human trafficking, I thought it might be helpful to write about what I observed.
Two views circulate widely about Amsterdam’s Red Light District – and prostitution in general.
The first view is that women are prostitutes by choice. They do so because they want to. They make good money. It’s an age-old profession and a career. They enjoy what they do.
The second view is that women are prostitutes by force. When most people hear about this view, they are surprised because most people have assumed the first view – that women do it because they want to – is the only view. But it’s not. In fact, in recent years, many more stories have surf
aced indicating most women do NOT engage in prostitution by choice. According to Human Trafficking expert Dottie Laster, most women do NOT choose to be prostitutes. They are forced, coerced, conned and manipulated into doing so. Then they are trapped and faced with threats by pimps and handlers who tell them if they don’t, the person will harm them or their loved ones.
Which is it for The Red Light District in Amsterdam?
Our guide – who had an air of handsome thuggishness — represented view 1 over and over again. He told us the girls liked their trade, they were proud of it, they enjoyed it, and many of them even did it on the side in addition to a day job because they enjoyed it so much.
However, their faces tell a different story. When I saw the girls for myself – standing behind large glass viewing windows scantily clad, wearing high heels, standing on red carpets – I looked into their eyes and saw a different truth.
Judging by their body language – crossed arms, wide eyes stares, a stone-faced drawl – they were not enjoying themselves. They were petrified or resigned. Some looked playful, but it was only an act, as there was no light in their eyes. When people truly enjoy something, they often have a brightness – a twinkle – in their eyes. They do not enjoy it. That is just wishful thinking on the part of those who choose to believe it.
I looked straight at our guide and asked him, “How do you know they want it? Like it? Enjoy it?” He said, “They want it because they want the power or they wouldn’t do it.” This may the reason he does whatever he does. But most women are not like that. In fact, in prostitution, it is pimps, not prostitutes, who wield power. Most people do not realize this because just like malicious spyware, the pimps are quietly in the background making invisible threats to the women causing damage that is not readily apparent to onlookers.
Some of them looked very sad, many of them looked frightened, and most of them had a look of deadened resignation in their eyes.
On our tour, we visited a Museum of Prostitution where they showed us what the rooms were like. They explained hygiene procedures. And they, in essence, glamorized prostitution. But as many human trafficking experts will tell you, there is nothing truly glamorous about it, despite what many want to believe. Rather, it is forced slavery taking place in the modern day. I know it’s difficult to believe. But it’s true.
Pimps strategically select and coerce women and young girls into prostitution. And once their girls have been coerced in, they become afraid to leave. But it can be done. I have met former prostitutes who decided to risk leaving their pimps and their “profession”. They are so glad they did because now their lives are in a better place.
As for Amsterdam, the Red Light District is an illusion. There is no real pleasure there. It is a place of silent despair. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Just look into their eyes and you will see a different story.