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Yet the infamous alleys of the De Wallen neighborhood—lined with coffee shops and windows featuring scantily clad sex workers—could soon face a transformation as local government officials strive to implement a new policy, set to increase the number of sex-work permits beyond De Wallen in an attempt to provide sex workers with opportunities elsewhere.
Since legalizing prostitution in , the Netherlands has been increasingly vigilant in combating human trafficking and other forms of criminal activity. But critics say the current government has failed to tie the sex trade to increased crime. The project notably limited sex work to two streets: Oude Nieuwstraat and Oudezijds Achterburgwal. This shut down many coffee shops and sex-worker windows, resulting in a sort of gentrification of the sex trade—pushing many sex workers towards illegal work or abroad to Brussels.
Though the Netherlands has been a global leader in decriminalizing sex work, the stigma surrounding the profession remains. But that approach clashes with what many sex workers are increasingly demanding: the ability to book clients online and work from home. For many sex workers who have built a community in the area and for whom tourists are clients, the potential changes are seen as an attempt to make up for the window closures, rather than an adjustment to the modern sex industry in the digital age and an effort to grant them similar rights to those enjoyed by other independent workers.
December, who works for De Stoute Vrouw The Naughty Woman , the only lesbian escort agency in the country, echoes concerns that have long plagued the sex work industry. Sex workers are mostly seen as objects of desire or cause for criminal activity, and the industry is blamed for sexualizing women for profit, but in reality their calls for change are no different from those of non-sex workers.
They just want a right to economic and moral autonomy. At a time when online ads for sex work are increasingly taking precedence over walking the streets or renting a window, and with market changes allowing more sex workers to work from home—or in private, anonymous spaces—policymakers are considering increasing the number of permits beyond the red-light district.