AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Amsterdam’s sex workers came to work early on Saturday to offer a free look at the city’s famed red-light district.
Hundreds of wide-eyed visitors queued in the sunshine to enter the dimly-lit sex clubs and peep shows that draw thousands to the city and to snoop around prostitutes’ neon-lit boudoirs.
"I think the open day is a great idea," said Love, an erotic dancer at Amsterdam’s Banana Bar, who was on hand to answer questions and pose for photographs in fluorescent negligee.
"It is especially interesting for women. If they learn what we do here they will realize it is not a big deal if their husbands or boyfriends want to come here."
Organizers staged the open day to counter bad publicity surrounding the 800-year-old district after harrowing reports of forced prostitution, human trafficking and organized crime.
More than 30 brothels are fighting closure after officials revoked their licenses last year over suspected links to money laundering and drug dealing.
But tourism authorities say the district — a warren of narrow alleys and canals lined with sex shops, brothels and neon signs – – is as big an attraction as Amsterdam’s art museums and coffee shops, where marijuana is freely smoked and sold.
Every night visitors throng the streets, agog at scantily clad women sitting behind huge red-lit windows, and who sell their services for as little as 50 euros ($66.58).
"I am here because my wife was interested in coming along," said 63-year-old Evert Rijnders from Haarlem.
His wife Jos added: "This has been a chance to look behind the scenes, and some things have definitely surprised me."
Organizer Jacco Wanders displayed a typical prostitute’s bedroom, usually concealed behind red velvet curtains and fitted with an emergency alarm bell in case a client turns violent.
He laughed as visitors posed in the tall street-facing window or bounced around on the mattress.
"This day is to help break down taboos around prostitution and to create more understanding and respect," he said.
The "open day" concludes with the unveiling of a statue to an unknown sex worker, intended to honor those employed in the industry world-wide, including those without the same protection found in the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal.
Amsterdam’s window-prostitutes are self-employed tax payers, hiring their own windows at around 110 euros per night.
"People who work in the sex industry don’t get enough respect," said Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute who now runs the red-light district’s information center.
"There are millions of them and many are in trouble. Some are abused by clients or pimps and it is important for them to know that they deserve respect."