The red curtains are drawn, and the room is dark. It’s closed for business.
Dark walls, with vibrant patterns in certain places, and a dark ceiling surround a dark bed coated in a protective sheet. A mirror the size of the bed lines the wall adjacent to it.
A large bath sits in the middle of the room, with a sink nearby, and a tall red chair sits prominently in the corner.
The room mirrors many in the De Wallen region in central Amsterdam, home to the city’s red light district, with this one regularly rented by a woman who uses the name Foxxy Angel professionally.
She rents the room, often referred to as a window, from the Dutch sex workers collective My Red Light.
The 37-year-old sex worker can be found here during the day, ready for clients, usually tourists.
A pull of the curtain string is all it takes to reveal the heaving crowds on the streets outside and to indicate that the room is open for business.
“I love sex. I like to make money,” said Angel, who has been in the business for more than 15 years. “I’ve had a lot of different jobs before, and this is the only one I really liked.”
Her window rent costs €80 a day, she explained, and she typically sees five or six clients per day, making at least €50 per client. When her shift ends, she also sees clients in bars or clubs and goes on location for larger group experiences.
Her hours are her own, and she reports only to herself.
“After 15 years, I’m still enjoying it every day,” she said. But she’s set an age limit of 45 before she moves on to focus more on her advocacy work, fighting for sex workers’ rights; she’s an ardent member of the Dutch Union of Sex Workers, also known as PROUD.
She’s fighting because Amsterdam, she said, isn’t as liberal for sex workers as many believe.
‘We pay the same taxes’
Sex work has been legal in some form in the Netherlands since 1830, but it was recognized as a legal profession in 1988. In 2000, a law made the job subject to municipal regulation, requiring a license to operate and following certain rules set by a municipality.
Being a sex worker is legal in licensed areas, Angel explained. “We have to follow all these rules, and these rules don’t guarantee our safety,” she said, giving an example of how increased regulation and legalization bring police and municipality checks, which often stop clients from coming in.
But she also wants the flexibility bestowed on other professions, she said, such as the option to work from home.
“Every barber and bookkeeper can work from their homes, but we can’t because we’re sex workers,” she said. “We pay the same taxes. We need to have the same rights.”
A further issue, added Velvet December, advocacy coordinator for PROUD, is that municipalities in the Netherlands have the right to make their own legislation, so each can differ. For example, they can decide how many licenses to give out, she said.
Legalization offers some protection, December believes. “There are places that it is much more dangerous to do sex work,” she acknowledged. “We can trust that we are protected by police. We have some rights, but we’re not there yet.”
Angel disagrees, saying she gets limited protection from her profession being legalized.
Where sex work is illegal, criminalized or both, workers are forced underground and often subject to harassment by the police, according to Amnesty International.
Both December and Angel want to get to the point where sex work is decriminalized: Criminal charges for sex work are fully removed, sex work between people is treated like any other work, and it’s brought under regular labor laws, according to the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce.
The only places that have decriminalized sex work are New Zealand and the state of New South Wales in Australia. In both places, sex work is not penalized through punitive laws, and regulation are premised on worker health and safety, as with any other profession.
“Sex work is truly seen as work and treated as such,” December said.
The reform in New Zealand is thought to have reduced violence against sex workers, increased their comfort in reporting abuse to the police and improved police attitudes toward sex workers, according to the country’s Ministry of Justice.
Research also showed that decriminalization in New Zealand resulted in sex workers being better able to refuse clients and insist on condom use. One study showed that decriminalization has the potential to reduce discrimination as well as denials of justice, denigration and verbal abuse.
But is the rest of the world ready to catch up?