The Red Light District is one of the most frequented locations for tourists when they hit Amsterdam. Every night, without fail, the strip is dotted with both locals and foreigners who are either looking for a good time, or just looking to see what all the fuss is about.
To be honest, my first experience of the area was when I was 17, and coming from Australia, it was a culture shock to say the least. Sure, I'd seen plenty of pictures of what the Red Light District is like, it's a completely different experience seeing these women.
While you might see a few dozen prostitutes standing next to their massive windows, there are actually roughly 8,000 active in the whole of Amsterdam.
The Netherlands is one of only a handful of countries in Europe - including Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Latvia - where prostitution is legal and regulated.
It's been legal in the Netherlands since the early 1800s, but it wasn't until 1988 until it was considered a legal profession.
But because the job is legal and regulated, it means that prostitutes are awarded the same basic rights and responsibilities as anyone else. They're eligible for health insurance, unemployment and invalidity benefits, they have a workers' union and free access to an unlimited amount of STI checks, however they also have to pay tax on their earnings.
Since regulation, police increased their patrols of the Red Light District to improve safety in the area.
Red light District
Sex workers also have panic buttons situated in their brothels if they come into contact with unruly clients. Because they're a member of the Dutch workforce, they're also in a better position to come forward with allegations of assault or sexual assault, compared to if they weren't in a legal job.
Legalising the sex trade also helped in the fight against human trafficking and give the sex workers more protection. However, that assertion is often a murky one and in theory it works, but not so well in practice.
A 2012 Harvard study found that 'countries with legalised prostitution are associated with higher human trafficking inflows than countries where prostitution is prohibited'.
That was brutally highlighted in 2008 when a gang of six people were sentenced to seven years behind bars for their human trafficking operation, which involved more than 100 female victims who were forced into prostitution.
Just a year later, two Nigerian men were convicted of smuggling 140 women from their home country into the Netherlands.
In an effort to combat this, the city has allowed a group of sex workers to open up their own brothel. One of the prostitutes involved told the Guardian: "Everything in this project, from the statutes to the decoration of the rooms, is thought out by sex workers."
The project, called My Red Light will allow the women (and men) to determine their own rental terms and working hours. The 14 windows, spread out across four buildings, are bigger than the traditional ones seen on the strip.
While it's certainly a step forward for the industry, it's still not a clear win for the sex workers, as there's no guarantee that they won't just forward their earnings to pimps. Legalising and regulating the sex working trade provides a whole host of benefits for the employees themselves, however it doesn't necessarily mean good things for the industry on the broader scale.
Hopefully, policymakers will be able to find that balance in the near future.
Featured Image Credit: PA