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Thursday, February 23, 2006 - Page updated at 03:46 PM


Amsterdam Red Light District turns spotlight on its practice

The Associated Press

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Dutch prostitutes gave the public a peek behind the curtains of Amsterdam's famed Red Light District on Saturday, hoping to stave off an attempt by city politicians to stop lingerie-clad women from advertising themselves in neon-lit windows.

Thousands of tourists and Dutch visitors took up the offer by the district's sex clubs and topless bars to step in for a free drink and a look around to counteract the establishments' seedy reputation.

Women allowed visitors into the cubicles where they conduct their business to explain hygiene regulations and the alarm system used when a prostitute encounters a difficult customer.

"The Red Light district has received a lot of negative publicity recently," said organizer Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute who runs the district's Prostitution Information Center. "We want to show the world that it is safe out here."

The open house came in response to proposals by the head of Amsterdam's Labor Party to discourage women from marketing themselves in windows.

The intimately lit rooms were sparse, with just a bed, a bedside table and a shower.

A young woman showing a room to a group of five men said customers are offered condoms and asked if they want to shower before their 15-minute session, which normally costs $60.

"You would not expect to find something like this in conservative Cambridge," British tourist Leigh Shaw-Taylor said after wandering past sex clubs and shops selling sex toys.

In a book released a few months ago, Labor party leader Lodewijk Asscher urged the authorities to crack down on window prostitution, saying it fostered crime and attracted pimps, drug addicts and human traffickers.

A recent study found that despite health rules, about 7 percent of Dutch prostitutes have HIV/AIDS.

"You must draw a line between tolerance and disinterest," Asscher wrote on his Web log. "Tolerance means legalizing prostitution, but then you must also be ready to combat the problems associated with it."

Local authorities already have closed down the red-light district in the eastern town of Arnhem.

The open house was supported by the information center, Amsterdam's Sex Museum, and The Salvation Army, which is active in the area.

Majoor said not all the sex workers were happy about opening their business premises to gawking, photograph-taking tourists.

"I completely understand their anger," she said. She said she hoped the women would see the intention was not to "humiliate, but promote their work."

The Dutch government legalized prostitution in 2000 with an eye to making it easier to tax and regulate.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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