While some cities, such as Utrecht, have removed them due to safety concerns, Red Light Districts can be found in nearly every major Dutch city, including Groningen, where it’s business as usual.
Down a narrow road off of one of Groningen’s most bustling streets, Folkingestraat, tourists may not have realised it was even there. In comparison to the likes of Amsterdam, it is a very modest set-up, with 30 to 40 windows, some of which are being renovated, where you will find girls working night and day.
On the street, “maintenance” men are looking after the day to day operations. One of these maintenance people, TJ (50), openly spoke about the situation. For TJ, who operates a significant section of the Red-Light District, his windows are a family business that he inherited from his parents.
He explained how the girls hail from South America or Eastern Europe and claimed they all asked him to work, with no coercion on his part. If he didn’t accept, “they would go just somewhere else… Everywhere is safe in Holland, so it doesn’t matter.” When asked if he thinks he is helping the girls, smiling slightly, TJ said, “Of course,” but he refused to talk about money.
Businesses in close proximity have no concerns either. Redmar Schoen, the assistant manager of popular fries outlet Frietwinkel, situated on the corner of the Red Light District, explained that they “don’t really notice it. Sometimes the girls come and buy fries or some shady guys, but during the day, no, and I don’t think it bothers tourists.”
Public opinion in the city, however, seems split.
“The women get treated badly, so for that reason, I don’t agree with it. I’m not sure if they really know what they get themselves into and don’t make a lot of money,” explained Simon Rapp (27). While Ella Gapp (18) said, “I like it because it’s easier for people who are struggling to make money. I don’t think it’s nice to have sex for money, but I understand why people do it.”
For the municipality, it’s a moot point.
“There’s no question about ending the Red-Light District.” The mayor’s Press Spokesperson, Niko Bwett, explained, “It fits well and there are hardly any problems, so why should we? It’s like anything else, also with taxes, it’s just a business, it’s a part of city life, it’s no question of morality.”
Regardless of social opinion, sex sells, so while taxes are paid, and other businesses aren’t affected, it’s here to stay.
*None of the workers were willing to comment.