Image: Amsterdam's Red Light district
Peter Dejong  /  AP file
Neon lights and sex shops dot a street in Amsterdam's Red Light district in this May 1996 file photo. The city is shutting down nearly one-third of the 350 prostitution "windows" in the neighborhood as part of a crackdown on crime.
updated 11/30/2006 12:50:00 PM ET 2006-11-30T17:50:00

City officials said Thursday they are shutting down nearly a third of the 350 prostitution “windows” in Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District as part of a crackdown on crime.

The city said a 2003 law allowed it to deny or revoke brothels’ licenses when it suspected operators would use them for money-laundering, or other illegal financial activity, “which in concrete terms means that those involved won’t be able to continue their businesses” after Jan. 1.

“We’re not knights on a morality crusade, and this is intended to target financial crime, not prostitution per se,” said city spokesman Martien Maten. “But we do think this will change the face of the Red Light District.”

The Dutch government legalized prostitution in 2000 with an eye to making it easier to tax and regulate. Even before then, the Red Light District was tolerated by authorities and had become a major tourist attraction.

The narrow streets near Amsterdam’s center have been known for prostitution since the city was the hub of a global trading empire during the Netherlands’ 17th century Golden Age.

Scantily clad women stand in the windows, beckoning tourists now just as they did sailors then. The area is also home to numerous bars and sex clubs.

It is a magnet for human trafficking, drug dealers and petty crime, and the city’s largest political party called for the crackdown.

'Many other things to offer'
In response, several major sex clubs held an open house in February, hoping to improve relations and dispel the area’s negative reputation.

Many of the brothels say the financial screening is unfair, because banks and reputable accountants are often unwilling to work with them, making it difficult to keep correct books.

Critics of the crackdown predict it will merely lead to more street prostitution.

Maten said business in the area has been in a slump, and he suspected that many of the prostitutes affected — about 300, given that the 105 windows that will be shut are often occupied in shifts — will find work at the remaining legal brothels.

He added he didn’t expect the closures to hurt tourism revenue.

“Amsterdam has many other things to offer,” he said.

A number of brothels are still under review, and the city said it plans to extend the crackdown next year to related hotels and cafes suspected of money-laundering.

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