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AMSTERDAM Update 1/21/04

Oudkerk resigns over prostitution scandal but
Public Thinks City Officials Should be Able to Visit Prostitutes if They Wish

20 January 2004

AMSTERDAM Alderman Rob Oudkerk bowed to the inevitable last night and resigned from his position on Amsterdam City Council following revelations he frequented a streetwalking zone for drug-addicted prostitutes. After meeting with his Labour PvdA party colleagues on Monday night, Oudkerk, the city alderman in charge of education and social affairs policy, went before the media cameras to signal the end of his political career.

When asked by a reporter what he intended to do now, a defiant Oudkerk replied: "I am going to go home and have a drink something which is still legal in this country then I am going to bed. Tomorrow morning I am going to bring my children to school where I hope there will be fewer cameras". Oudkerk, 49, a family doctor by profession married with two children, had previously claimed his visits to prostitutes were a private matter.

His resignation comes as an opinion poll found that 63 percent of the Dutch public felt his indiscretions were not reason to step down and 73 percent said aldermen and women, plus council officials should be allowed to visit prostitutes if they wanted to. Many of Oudkerk's political colleagues in the Labour party PvdA, and even his political opponents agreed with this point of view.

Several politicians in The Hague became aware of his nocturnal activities when a threat was made in 2000 to blackmail him with photos of him visiting prostitutes while he was an MP. He left Parliament in 2002 to become an alderman in Amsterdam. It was reported on Monday that the selection community that vetted him for the job were unaware of the blackmail attempt or his liking for prostitutes. But the nail in the coffin of Oudkerk's career came in the last few days when it emerged he was a regular on the Theemsweg in Amsterdam. A special zone had been set up there in 1995 as a safe environment to allow Dutch women addicted to hard drugs to work as prostitutes. A meeting of the PvdA faction on the Amsterdam Council agreed on Monday night that Oudkerk's position was untenable because the council was debating in 2002 when it seems Oudkerk might still have been a regular client to close the area down due to rampant illegal activity in the area. Councillors acted on reports from the police that guns and drugs were being traded on the Theemsweg and that many of the women working there were illegal immigrants and were the victims of human traffickers. Mayor Job Cohen and the executive committee made up of all aldermen and women, including Oudkerk voted to abolish the zone. It officially closed down in December 2003.

But Amsterdam is not turning its back on sex completely. The city's Red Light District of bars and whores will stay, and in fact, the city council voted in February 2003 against banning the sale of sex between 3-6am. Supporters of the proposed ban claimed it would reduce crime and disturbances cause by public drunkenness in a city district which attracts three million tourists every year.

It was decided, however, that Amsterdam and window sex go hand-in-hand, but when it came to street prostitution, the council said it no longer wished to operate an area where women continually fell victim to human traffickers. Mayor Job Cohen said the situation was a "devils dilemma" because it "appeared impossible to create a safe and controllable zone for women that was not open to abuse by organised crime". But he also said uncontrollable street prostitution could spread again across the city.

Ironically, it was this spread that led to the creation of the zone, an area where women addicted to drugs could work safely as prostitutes without causing a public nuisance. Police patrolled the area, medical services and social work were offered to the sex workers and private, screened areas were set up for the nitty gritty. A fence surrounded the zone and prostitutes said they felt safe working there. But the target group of women was hardly seen. Instead, illegal immigrants were the main attraction and it attracted Eastern European crime gangs. A investigation by research bureau DSP indicated the number of prostitutes in the zone had declined from 130 to 50 per night. But it also revealed a large majority of the remaining street walkers were illegal immigrants.

The windows remain open
Amsterdam is not alone, however, in moving against street prostitution and the proposed closure of the tolerated zone in Rotterdam at the end of 2005 has also sparked heated discussion. But up until now, Rotterdam's executive council has only said that prostitution will in future occur in an "accessible, controllable" erotica centre or brothel.

But while Rotterdam street prostitutes await official answers about their future, it appears increasingly likely that the Dutch experiment with tolerated, police-patrolled street prostitution zones offering medical and social work assistance to sex workers is on the way out.

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