Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam

de Wallen




De Wallen is located in the heart of the oldest part of Amsterdam, covering several blocks south of the church Oude Kerk and crossed by several canals. The name Wallen refers to the names of the two canals in the area, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal and the Oudezijds Voorburgwal.


The red light district has existed since the 14th century and formerly contained many distilleries, mainly catering to sailors.


late mediaeval vernacular


brick, wood


Outdoor space Red-light district
  Old Church-Old Profession
  Glass doors to rooms rented by prostitutes in the Amsterdam red light district
De Wallen, also known as Walletjes or Rosse Buurt, is the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam, a major tourist attraction. It is a network of alleys containing several hundred tiny one-room apartments rented by female prostitutes (and some ladyboys) who offer their services from behind a window. It also has a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, and a number of coffee shops offering various cannabis products.

Prostitution is generally legal in the Netherlands, however some of the working women are illegal immigrants. Health and social services are readily available, but the women are not required to undergo regular health checks. A recent study found that about 7 percent of all Dutch prostitutes (including street prostitutes) have HIV/AIDS. [1]

The women in De Wallen are self-employed and rent the rooms from private owners for some 100-150 euros per 8 hour shift, which includes closed-circuit security. Condoms are generally used for sexual contact, although not always with oral sex. Twenty minutes of sex typically costs about 40 to 50 euros, sometimes with a 20 euro surcharge for the girl to take off her top. There are women of most nationalities offering services.

De Wallen is hit hard by pimping and human trafficking, although the extent of these phenomena in this area is uncertain. Two anonymous vice officers of the bureau Beurstraat who have worked in this area revealed in October 2005 that there are two main groups of human traffickers on de Wallen, the "loverboys" and a group known as "the Turks". The group of loverboys consist mostly of young Moroccan males who use romantic techniques to persuade young women to work for them as prostitutes. The Turkish group concentrates mainly on the trafficking in Eastern European prostitutes. An investigation into this group in early 2003 failed miserably: only a few arrests were made and the defendants were quickly released due to lack of evidence.

The setup of window-prostitution is beneficial for human traffickers. It is very easy (with false documents, if necessary) to rent a window. No questions are asked by the brothel owners. Furthermore it is easy for human traffickers to keep an eye on the woman while she's behind a window. Usually pimps are not allowed to enter indoor-brothels and hence prefer window-prostitution. Dutch prostitutes who work in other segments of the prostitution industry (escort, clubs etc….) seem to be much more independent.

According to a Christian organization of aid workers named the ‘Scharlaken Koord’ (in English, Scarlet Cord), out of 892 prostitutes they had contact with in the year 2001, 450 handed over all their earnings to their pimp. The Scharlaken Koord mainly works among prostitutes on de Wallen. Moreover, of the 439 Dutch window-prostitutes on de Wallen they had contact with in 2001-2002, 380 indicated they where introduced into prostitution by a loverboy. According to these aid workers many prostitutes find it difficult to escape prostitution because they are socially isolated and have huge debts, often built up by their former boyfriends in their name. Usually the only friends they have are other prostitutes or their pimp. The Scharlaken Koord has set up a special ‘pal’-program for prostitutes in which the pals help the women to build up a new social network.

In the year 2004 the Amsterdam authorities ordered research into the nature and scale of the loverboy phenomenon in Amsterdam. The Willem Plompe institution took up that job. These researchers mainly focused on the prostitutes on de Wallen. The researchers, under the leadership of professor Frank Bovenkerk, were shocked to find out that women under the control of a pimp can be easily put to work in basically all legal brothels, while the brothel owners are usually well aware that the woman has a pimp. But the researchers concluded that the typical loverboy is rare. The phenomenon is not new, either; there have always been pimps who use romantic techniques.
However there was a problem with what they called ‘the modern pimp’. Prostitutes they have spoken to indicated it is nearly impossible for a prostitute to work independently. The ones who try cannot offer resistance to obtrusive men. Nearly all prostitutes work for a man, but some have been coerced into sex work. The researchers assume that, for Latin American and African prostitutes, men in their home countries play a big role in the background. For East European women they suspect human traffickers play a big role. It is assumed that these human traffickers subcontract the supervising of these women to mainly Albanian pimps. The researchers referred to a portfolio compiled by officers from the Beursstraat policestation. It contains a list of 76 pimps with a very violent criminal history who operated on de Wallen during the previous half year. Of those 76 pimps 5 come from abroad and the rest is Dutch of whom only three are Dutch natives. The list is not complete. Many foreign (possibly many Albanian) pimps have been overlooked and many pimps don't show themselves on de Wallen. During a midweek evening an estimated 20 Dutch women on de Wallen are forced by pimps. During the weekend this number is 50. On any day some 400 prostitutes work on de Wallen.
They asked more than 20 random Dutch prostitutes how they entered prostitution. Many were introduced into prostitution by their (former) boyfriends through a love affair. The girls call this "voodoo". Often these boyfriends were Moroccan and sometimes they were Turks. Most of these women now work independently for a boyfriend they have chosen themselves or have switched from one pimp to another. Sometimes they say they have been sold for tens of thousands of euros.

Many Dutch victims of human trafficking are not recruited among the socially and economically disadvantaged, but are from white middle class families. The girls mostly come from rural areas and the suburbs and not from the cities themselves.