City In Focus: Amsterdam

March Anti-Human Trafficking Conference Call

Sunday, March 17th from 8-9pm

Conference Dial-in-Number (949) 812-4500

Access code:188618#

City in Focus: Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Legalized prostitution in Amsterdam is a failed experiment, a classic case of “what-not-to-do” in the fight to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Engaging in the act of selling sex for profit has never been a criminal offence in the Netherlands. Brothels, however, were illegal until the year 2000, when the laws that banned brothels and pimping were removed from the Criminal Code and the whole of the prostitution industry became legitimized and legal.

As the globe’s premier sex-tourism destination, Amsterdam doubles as the world’s most glaringly obvious trafficking hot spot. Why? Because legalized prostitution enables human trafficking.

Not For Sale estimates that there are about 25 thousand women in prostitution in Amsterdam. According to the Irish Times, just three years before the brothel ban was lifted, a study done in Amsterdam showed that 80% of the prostitutes were foreigners. A decade later, a similar study showed that not much had changed and that most of the women were from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia, which is precisely what Exodus Cry found while filming Nefarious: Merchant of Souls:

Benjamin Nolot: “What type of girls work here?”

Slim (Brothel Owner in Amsterdam): “They’re different. At the moment we have a lot of girls from East Europe, and especially from Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, but we are allowed to rent rooms to 27 countries.”

Benjamin Nolot: “Most of the girls we had seen in the windows were from Eastern Europe. We couldn’t help wondering how many of them had actually been trafficked here. When we tried talking with them the only words they knew in English were how to give a price for sexual services.”

The bottom line: Amsterdam’s windows are filled with imported women. And after the brothel ban was lifted, the number of women being trafficked for sexual exploitation in Amsterdam’s legal sex industry has increased. [1]

There was a clear, though flawed, rationale for legalizing brothels in the year 2000. The idea was that, if the prostitution industry was legal, it could be regulated. In addition, the hope was that the crimes associated with prostitution in the shadows, namely drug sales and human trafficking, would scale back as well. Finally, the intent was that the government would actually draw tax revenue from the legalized sex industry.

Just a few years after the ban on brothels was removed, a major report by the Dutch Ministry of Justice found that the legislation had only served to increase criminal activity, unregistered brothels, and human trafficking. One of the main drawbacks, from the point of view of brothel owners, was that to register a brothel for a license meant that you were sure to be inspected; far more often than non-registered brothels.Seven years later, there was a seed shift in opinion, and the mayor announced that up to one third of the brothels would be closed. The city purchased real estate from a man known in Amsterdam as the Emperor of Sex, and in 2007 and 2008, 51 windows in Amsterdam’s red light district were closed

Amsterdam is home to 13 different red light districts. But according to a study done by Shared Hope International, the girls in the windows represent just a fraction of the sex trade sanctioned by legalized prostitution in the Netherlands. The same major report that found that brothel owners were reluctant to apply for licenses found also that secondary sex markets—clubs, saunas, massage parlors, just to name a few—were far more difficult to monitor than brothels. Johns enter these establishments as paying customers, and since these venues are not ostensibly selling sex, they are not required to register for licenses.

While the police forces in Amsterdam focus on patrolling the registered brothels and windows in red light districts, trafficking takes place right on the streets. Pimps and “Lover Boys,” according to the Shared Hope report, popped up as a phenomenon as the recruitment arm of vicious street gangs not long after legalization. While foreign women are recruited by international traffickers, to work in Amsterdam’s red light district, the street gangs of Amsterdam are typically Moroccan or Turkish and target local Dutch girls for their activities.

The tactics of “Lover Boys” are simple: seduce a young girl with equal parts charm and vodka, then take her to a discreet location to gang rape her. They might even deliberately cause a schism between the girl and her parents—all part of the plan to isolate her from any sort of support system. Once she’s emotionally attached and physically broken, they sell her for sex in an out-of-the-way flat or apartment, or even in a red-light window. Not only does this particularly vicious strain of trafficking skirt the careful regulations of licensed brothels, it also completely ignores the age restriction

Prayer for justice has been arising from faithful intercessors on the front lines in the red light district in Amsterdam and from others who have joined with them around the globe. And God is responding. Our Nefarious European Tour Team has had the opportunity to be on the ground in Amsterdam this week, speaking with Members of Parliament, NGOs, prayer ministries and outreach teams. Our Manager of Policy and Public Affairs Laila Mickelwait says, “There is a renewed sense of hope that change is truly on the horizon for Amsterdam.”

International attention has been focused on the failures of Dutch legislation to control human trafficking and a new unprecedented wind of change is being seen in the government. On February 26th, Amsterdam mayor Eberhard ven der Laan responded to calls for stricter regulations to combat the exploitation of young women in the sex industry. The city council had decided to raise the minimum age for prostituted women from 18 to 21 and to force brothels to close during early morning hours from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. Only two days after that announcement, news outlets were reporting on a visit to Sweden by a Dutch Member of Parliament, Gert-Jan Segers, who is convinced that the Nordic model of prostitution legislation is the way forward for the country. Mr. Segers is a Christian politician, from the Christian Union party, who has vowed to put an end to prostitution and human trafficking in Amsterdam, and to reverse the legality of prostitution in the Netherlands during his time in office. Mr. Segers is a man of prayer and a modern-day William Wilberforce for the Netherlands. In a meeting, Mr. Segers told Laila that he was planning to show Nefarious: Merchant of Souls at The Hague to other MPs in order to raise support for change, and emphasized that he is dedicated to seeing justice released in his nation through the shutting down of the red light districts and the overturning of legalized prostitution.


  • Pray for a repeal in the legalization of the purchase of sex and for a blessing on the work of the MP Gert-Jan Segers.
  • Ask God for a change in the public perception of prostitution—from bone fide occupation, to slavery.
  • Ask God to shed light on the operations of street gangs and to expose the secondary sex markets.

[1] Siddharth Kara, “Sex Trafficking, Inside the Business of Modern Slavery” 2010 p. 104

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