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Amsterdam Journal: A Dutch Effort to Form a Prostitute Cooperative Is Met With Hope and Skepticism

“One of the things we have changed in recent years is that instead of talking about what is good for prostitutes, we have started to talk to them,” said Jasper Karman, spokesman for Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan.

Not everyone likes the idea, among them some fellow prostitutes who are suspicious of the city’s involvement. But My Red Light has drawn support from unlikely quarters, including award-winning Dutch furniture and interior designers, who have helped outfit the rooms.

Sitting on a blue vinyl mattress on a stage, a glowing red bathtub in one corner and a Richard Hutten red leather stool by the window, Lyle Muns, a male prostitute who is on the board of My Red Light, explained recently that the project, which opened in May, was still a work in progress.

“I am really passionate about this project and I believe it could work, but it is also an experiment, right?” he said. “We haven’t succeeded until My Red Light is run mostly by sex workers and we are making a profit.”

Photo

A male and a female prostitute, who chose not to be identified, in one of the rooms at My Red Light. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

The concept of My Red Light was first discussed in Amsterdam as far back as 2007, when the city tried to combat crime in the neighborhood through the 1012 Project, a reference to the central red light district’s postal code.

Authorities eventually shut down about 125 windows where prostitutes displayed themselves, leaving many feeling they were being pushed out so that the city could gentrify the historic area, which claims some of Amsterdam’s most valuable real estate.

Protests led to regular meetings between the city and activists, and then to a feasibility study that eventually gave birth to My Red Light. The city helped a social investment fund buy four buildings that it now rents to My Red Light.

As soon as the fund bought the buildings late last year, all ties to the city were cut. Currently, My Red Light officially operates as a foundation. “We hope in a year or two we’ll be run entirely by sex workers or ex-sex workers,” said Justine Le Clercq, a spokeswoman for My Red Light.

When My Red Light starts to turn a profit, she said, it plans to invest the money in workshops and other programs for the prostitutes, like business training and language classes.

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“We haven’t succeeded until My Red Light is run mostly by sex workers and we are making a profit,” said Lyle Muns, a male prostitute on the board of My Red Light, who is shown in one of the group’s rooms. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

The group has also been discussing investing in something like workers’ compensation insurance so that prostitutes who get sick or injured can get financial support.

When it came to the design of the interiors, My Red Light argued that prostitutes deserve the same quality of working environment as chief executives and celebrities. So they engaged the award-winning Dutch furniture company Lensvelt, which helped furnish the V.I.P. lounge at the Schiphol airport.

Lensvelt chose the interior design architect Janpaul Scholtmeijer, of Vens Architecten. His only strict directive was to make all the design decisions along with a group of about five prostitutes.

Left to his own devices, Mr. Scholtmeijer joked, he would have covered the rooms in velvet, but the prostitutes rolled their eyes at his impracticality.

“In the end, what was most important for the sex workers was that the spaces were easy to clean and hygienic,” Mr. Scholtmeijer said.

Source: NYT > World

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