Why is Amsterdam's red light district free of crime?

Amsterdam is an ethereal city intertwined with well-laid streets and eye-catching canals infested with ferry boats. Photo: Siby Mathew Kottarakkara

Amsterdam, the populous city of the northwestern European country of Netherlands, is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world. The ‘red light’ area of the buzzy and magical megalopolis, which has more than a touch of uniqueness attached to it compared to other tourist spots, is world-famous. Amsterdam boasts of many streets and alleys where drug trade and prostitution have a legal cover. Here’s a peek into the ‘red light’ district of Amsterdam.

A city of cyclists
Amsterdam is an ethereal city intertwined with well-laid streets and eye-catching canals infested with ferry boats. It may seem that the main mode of transportation of the Dutch is cycles as the streets are always teeming with cyclists. The shores of the city are dotted with buildings that are aesthetically bedecked to the glee of the visitors to this glittering city. If you want to soak in the beauty of Dutch architecture, then Amsterdam is the right place for you. It would never be an exaggeration if you term Amsterdam the melting pot of tourists from across the globe.

Paradise of sins
A short walk from the Amsterdam Central Station through the streets would take you to the alluring region of De Wallen. The labyrinth of alleys of De Wallen, famously known as the ‘red light’ district, is the ‘Paradise of Sins’. These streets are the hot spots of sex workers standing in glass cages to attract customers, sex toy shops, live sex shows, erotic show centers, sex museums, pubs, and bars, among others. Another striking feature of De Wallen is that the sale and use of psychoactive drugs such as hashish and marijuana are within the law and can be bought from coffee shops and supermarkets without any curbs. Interestingly, Amsterdam is exploring these heady avenues for tourism purposes.

Why a hub of prostitution?
The medieval city of Amsterdam was one of the prominent trade centers of Europe. As Amsterdam is a port city, it attracted people from different parts of the world and this is cited as one of the main reasons for the advent of prostitution in the city. After the Catholic Government was shown the door by the Dutch rebels, Amsterdam became a hub of nightlife and entertainment. Presently, the city has mesmerizing streets filled with tourists from around the globe seeking hedonic thrill.

Both male and female prostitution have legal validity in Amsterdam. It is worth noting that sex workers have equal rights to people engaged in other professions. The Dutch government announces the remuneration of the sex workers and they have to pay taxes too like any other earning person. As per the latest statistics, there are around 25,000 sex workers, including local people and others hailing from Eastern Europe and different corners of the world. As you walk down the alleys, a museum named ‘Red Light Secrets’ and beautiful girls in glass cubicles would greet you.

Food laced with drugs
The streets of De Wallen are dotted with scores of coffee shops and restaurants. People could be seen sitting on the shores and talking animatedly after sipping beer or wine. If you are a first-timer to Amsterdam, you would be flabbergasted to see biscuits, toffees, and ice-creams laced with cannabis and marijuana on the menus of these coffee shops. You could also see people buying food items from these food joints after tasting them. Attractive women with nonchalant attitudes could be seen drinking beer and smoking marijuana cigarettes sitting on roadside benches. You would also be surprised to see tourists coming with their families to De Wallen.

Another surprise in store is the magnificent Oude Kerk (Old Chruch), which was built in the 13th century, near the ‘red light’ area. The ‘Belle’ bronze statue, which is near Oude Kerk, was unveiled in 2007 and is dedicated to “sex workers around the world”.

A peaceful destination
It is noteworthy that this Dutch city logs very few crimes and is a peaceful destination. Apparently, it is due to the presence of municipal enforcement officials aka 'handhavers', and also the government's extremely tolerant drug policies. The courts here also employ less severe penalties like community service, fines, electronic tagging, and more to punish offenders. The punitive system also prefers rehabilitation over punishment and apparently, fewer criminals re-offend after serving their sentences. 

Moulin Rouge is a well-known club in Amsterdam where live sex shows are staged. There is a section of tourists visiting De Wallen who believe that there is no need to curb the raw instincts but there are others who come with their families to enjoy the awe-inspiring charm of Amsterdam. The boat rides, museums, old buildings that reflect the aesthetic sense of Dutch architecture, tulip fields, and windmills, among others, can have a deep impression on travelers. While in Amsterdam you would understand the meaning of the phrase ‘night is young’.  

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