‘Sex workers are at the bottom of society’’

Sex workers of Amsterdam are finally back in business. And although the girls are happy to get back to work, they still feel underappreciated by society. How has being in lockdown been for them and what is it like to finally get back to work?

The red glow of the lights is shining on the facades again. Girls of all colours, shapes and sizes have put on their elegant yet sexy outfits again. The streets of the Amsterdam red-light district are getting a bit busier again. Men are nervously walking past the windows, trying to find the perfect girl who can meet their needs. But many girls are also gone since lockdowns have forced them to go back home.

When thinking of Amsterdam, many people will probably mention Amsterdam its red-light district. For decades the red-light district which goes by the name of ‘De Wallen’, is a prominent hot spot for both locals and tourists. However, during the pandemic, De Wallen has been closed and sex workers were either forced to get a different job or to continue working illegally.

Jacky has been working as a sex worker for over 20 years already. She knows everything and everyone in Amsterdam’s red-light district. The first reaction of all the girls when hearing sex workers were allowed to work again was pure joy. ‘’It was really nice to finally feel acknowledged again’’ Jacky said, referring to the Dutch government that has been working against sex workers for quite a while. ‘’As a sex worker you really are at the bottom of society’’, she responded.

Sex workers have not been able to work for five months. For Jacky it was alright since she also works in healthcare but for many other girls their total income just got cut off. ‘’Some of the girls really had to get used to working again’’, Jacky says. Although most girls are back behind the windows again, it still is not as busy as it used to be. Many men who also got hit by lockdown do not have enough money to visit their favorite girls. But the ones who can afford it are very happy to be back according to Jacky.

The first thing that happened after the red light district opened again was a tidal wave of journalists wanting to get a story about the situation. Although Jacky and many other sex workers are not really a fan of most journalists, they did agree to meet with a few but already regretted their decision a few days after. De Volkskrant wrote quite an extensive article and Jacky was felt quite positive about the interview. Sadly a few days later she was (once again) disappointed with an article that put her and the De Wallen in bad daylight again. ‘’Did you read any of the positive things I said?’’, she asked.

A few days later after the article came out the journalist returned to Jacky to explain that his boss told him to also write about human trafficking and forced labour, topics that Jacky had never discussed with the journalist. ‘’The media fucks us harder than our own clients’’, she said with a sarcastic laugh. Although sex workers were happy to work again, it still feels weird for them to know that no one is really on their side. Jacky said there almost are no cases of human trafficking or forced labour on De Wallen. ‘’It often is the perception that people have of this red-light district but for many years it is not the reality anymore’’ she said.

‘’The way we are framed by the media is so toxic’’ says Jacky. ‘’The media wants to come across as if they have a genuine interest in telling the story of sex workers but in the end all they do is put a label on us’’, Jacky says. The only media outlets that most sex workers really trust are Vice and One World. However, those outlets already have a more open-minded audience and therefore is not the audience that should be reached according to Jacky.

Many of the sex workers that work behind the windows continued their work illegally during lockdown. Either in their own homes or at the homes of their clients. This often results in dangerous situations since there is no supervision to make sure the girls are safe. There have been many incidents where girls were beaten up or raped which shows how important a regulated red-light district is.

A lot of the girls are not registered at the KVK since they do not want some sort of record of being a sex worker. Therefore they did not get any funding from the government. Jacky said sex workers can’t even get insurance since no insurance company wants to take sex workers in. Even opening a bank account can be a hassle. ‘’Of course, getting back to work is the best things to happen, but a lot of things really need to be changed’’ Jacky said.

Just like many other sex workers, all that Jacky wants is to really sit down with different media outlets, but also local governments to really start the conversation. ‘’When people hear the combination of sex and money alarm bells immediately start ringing’’ she says. The media really plays an important role in the perception of people on certain things. And if this is not going to work out, Jacky will take the matter into her own hands by starting a Twitter or Instagram account with the true stories of sex workers. ‘’Our real stories need to be told and the media needs to be exposed, so we might just do it ourselves’’ Jacky says.