Trying to close Wallen, municipality manipulates
The municipality insists on closing a large part of the Wallen, Amsterdam’s Red Light District. However, the problems at the Wallen are being exaggerated and have been caused in part by the government’s failure to crack down on human trafficking, argues Bas Merkx, number one on the list of Amsterdam Sociaal. “It is about time for Amsterdammers to stand up for their city.”
The Wallen are not just a world-famous tourist attraction. More than anything, they are one of the aspects of Amsterdam’s tolerance. And yet, the municipality has decided to close a large part of it. Within three years, two-thirds of the Wallen will disappear, because the municipality claims that it is a hotbed of criminal organisations where drugs trade and especially human trafficking are rife. The situation at the Wallen is so threatening, that the only solution is to buy up the area, close it and find another use for it. Is the municipality rightly intending to close a large part of the Wallen on these grounds, or is this a matter of double standards and are other issues at stake?
The municipality claims that it has intensified attempts to crack down on human trafficking and that this has proven ineffective. As a champion of the rights of prostitutes, the municipality has therefore decided to close most of the Wallen.
Amsterdam Sociaal wants to emphasize that any form of human trafficking must be dealt with in a tough manner. We stand for the ideals of freedom, equality and tolerance and think that no one has a right to pressurize other people in any way. However, we think that closing the Wallen is an approach that is so rigorous that it can only be justified if in fact pressure being exerted on a large scale by the criminal infrastructure the municipality refers to.
Police fail to act on reports of trafficking
Frequently, the police fail to follow-up on reports of human trafficking, an investigation by the Nationale Recherche (national criminal investigation department) revealed. In so doing, they are breaking the law. To say the least, it is remarkable that the municipality is claiming that dealing with human trafficking is a priority, yet it is failing to act on these reports. So the police are failing seriously in dealing with human trafficking, which in part explains why the problems have proliferated in the first place. However, the Nationale Recherche puts the blame not only on the police, but also on the municipality. While the municipality claims that dealing with human trafficking is a priority and that the interests of the prostitutes come first, it is dodging its responsibility and letting things slide.
Next, let us consider the extent of the problem. Over half the prostitutes are being forced, according to the municipality. That is quite a claim, which will surely be based on facts? For then it would be justifiable to some extent to close the Wallen, if four thousand women are victims of human trafficking. Where do they get this information? It is based on estimates by prostitution inspectors, but they cannot substantiate these estimates. In other words, based on the gut feeling of inspectors who make a rough estimate of the number of women who are being forced, the Amsterdam Wallen are being closed. It looks like the municipality is exaggerating what goes on at the Wallen in order to push through its plans.
The municipality further claims that it is defending the interests of prostitutes and wants to fight human trafficking, while there is no indication that it is actually doing so. In order to protect prostitutes, it is closing windows at the Wallen. Windows that are frequently being inspected by the police, the tax authorities, the municipality and a specialized anti-organised crime team (BiBOB). Windows that are the most transparent form of prostitution and that will no longer be there in the future. This will force prostitutes, among other things, to go underground.
Poll results distorted
If the interests of the prostitutes would really come first, it would make sense to ask them for their opinion. However, their organisations have hardly been involved in the preparation of the plans. More than likely, these groups have not been asked for advice because they do not agree with the policy.
In preparing its policy, the municipality did not consult prostitutes, owners of windows or interest groups. However, it did conduct a poll among residents. The largest part of the respondents is in favour of keeping the windows. Since this was inconvenient from the point of view of the decision makers, it has been tried to present the outcome in a different way. At the PvdA website, an article appeared that describes the results of the poll. The first line ran: “Residents and business owners at the Wallen want a tougher approach of dealers and drugs addicts who are causing a nuisance.” However, the poll did not show that residents would like a tougher approach. Researchers of the University of Amsterdam arrive at the conclusion that the PvdA is distorting the results of the poll to such an extend that it looks as if there is broad support for the municipal plans.
The municipality also tries to influence perceptions through the media, the researchers of the University of Amsterdam find. Media are given a scoop if the municipality gets a say in what they are reporting.
According to Amsterdam Sociaal, closing the Wallen is certainly not the only option: let the municipality first implement its existing policies. The municipality itself acknowledges that much can be won by introducing an obligatory intake for prostitutes, tougher inspections by the tax authorities and using the BiBOB Act [which can be used to force business owners to disclose financial information].
So closing the Wallen is certainly not the only option and the municipality has sufficient other means at its disposal. Amsterdammers are being manipulated by the municipality into believing that the Wallen are a hotbed of human trafficking and forced prostitution. In this way, the municipality is hoping to push through its plans. And as it stands now, it seems to be succeeding.
Amsterdam Sociaal wants an Amsterdam that includes the Wallen. The plans will not only harm the world-famous Amsterdam tolerance, but also negatively affect tourism, since many people visit Amsterdam because of the Red Light District. Even though the economic impact for a city like Amsterdam can be significant, our municipality has not considered this at all.
In short, the municipality has no idea what the consequences might be of rigorously pushing through its plans under false pretences. It is about time for Amsterdammers to stand up for their city, where the municipality is a direct threat to the freedom, equality and tolerance of Amsterdam and lying to its residents. Therefore, vote Amsterdam Sociaal on 3 March 2010.