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Amsterdam investigates feasibility of prostitutes running their own businesses

The Amsterdam College of Mayor and Alderpersons has finalised plans to launch a feasibility study into self-managed prostitution businesses.

The City of Amsterdam is seeking an external partner that will participate in the project by purchasing and letting out five properties to house such businesses. The formation of a self-managed prostitution business would represent a significant step towards increased independence and autonomy for prostitutes working in Amsterdam. The move also dovetails with the City of Amsterdam’s drive to stamp out abuse in the industry and ensure suitable working conditions. The new plans align with a long-standing aspiration of many prostitutes as well as with a motion carried by the city council in July 2013.

For many years, the City of Amsterdam has been committed to improving conditions in the city’s prostitution industry by bolstering the position of prostitutes and tackling abuses such as human trafficking, exploitation and poor working conditions. The feasibility study into self-managed prostitution businesses aligns with this policy: significant progress would be made by offering a leading role to the prostitutes themselves.

Two major factors have contributed to self-managed prostitution businesses becoming a viable possibility in Amsterdam: the availability of five properties that can house window prostitution businesses, alongside the organisation HVO-Querido being prepared to offer prostitutes guidance in establishing their own business. Experienced in offering assistance to prostitutes, HVO-Querido is a foundation that is dedicated to strengthening their role as businesspeople. As such, two major obstacles blocking the establishment of self-managed prostitution businesses have been removed: the lack of suitable properties and guidance required to support enterprise in the industry.

Five available properties
In the coming period, the City of Amsterdam will actively seek an external partner willing to purchase the five designated properties and to let them out to self-managed prostitution businesses. This is the next major obstacle that needs to be overcome. The municipality is keen to enter into discussions with a bona fide organisation looking to make a socially-oriented, yet sound investment. Offering a total of 19 work spaces for approximately 50 prostitutes, the five available properties are all located within the ‘Prostitution Zone’ in the Red Light District: four on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal and one on the Boomsteeg. The properties were purchased from Charles Geerts by NV Stadsgoed in 2007 and are allocated for use in the prostitution industry. They were earmarked as so-called ‘exchange properties’ and as such, could be exchanged for window prostitution properties outside of the ‘Prostitution Zone’.

Should the City of Amsterdam fail to find a bona fide party willing to purchase the properties, the possibility of the properties coming under municipal ownership will be examined. The municipality would then rent out the workspaces to the prostitutes. However, this could lead to an undesirable conflict of interests, due to the fact that the City of Amsterdam is also always responsible for granting permits, supervision and enforcement of regulations.

Organisation and potential risks
In collaboration with the new property owner and prostitutes in the city, HVO-Querido and the City of Amsterdam will establish a legal entity with expert knowledge of the prostitution industry. This new organisation will help the prostitutes acquire the skills required to run their own business. The aim is that the prostitutes assume full control of the business within a reasonable period of time.

Facilitating a prostitution business entails social, financial and legal risks for the municipality. Once these risks have been accurately assessed in the coming period, a definitive proposal will be presented to the city council. The positive potential of the project will subsequently be counterbalanced against the inherent risks. The self-managed prostitution business would open in July 2015 at the earliest.