Over spring break, I went on a Spring Service Partnership to Amsterdam, and while I learned a lot about a new culture, about how to share the Gospel and about God’s presence in the world around me, I also had the chance to see one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever experienced: the Red Light District.
The Red Light District is a section of Amsterdam where women stand behind windows and sell their bodies to men at night. In addition to the hundreds of windows with scantily clad prostitutes behind them, the Red Light District is filled with sex shops, sex theaters, peep shows, weed shops and hundreds of people who come to shop for sex.
Our team was split between two different hostels in Amsterdam, so whenever we had a chance to get together, we sounded like typical loud Americans, laughing and joking and sharing stories with each other. But as we entered the Red Light District, we fell silent; we felt spiritually and physically heavy, wanting so badly to be able to help the women trapped in this world. With sympathetic ears and broken hearts, we listened to our tour guide point out buildings, teach us about the industry and share with us the horrors of the prostitution-filled nightlife in Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam and much of the world, the Red Light District isn’t seen as a problem. It is seen as a hallmark of Amsterdam’s forward-moving progressiveness, and most people are proud of the industry. They think it celebrates the “freedom” women have to choose to go into prostitution. They think it shows gender equality because women can express how strong and independent they are. They see it as a key piece of Amsterdam’s exciting nightlife and nothing more.
Here’s why that’s a load of garbage.
Of the thousands of prostitutes in Amsterdam, the majority are forced, coerced and scammed into the industry with promises of money and a better life. Many are immigrants from Eastern Europe who move to Amsterdam after being told they can make plenty of money to send home to their families.
Many are victims of human trafficking and are sold into the industry. They then get to Amsterdam and find out they have hundreds of thousands of dollars of “debt” to pay off – travel fees, passport fees, money to the pimp, etc. They even need to have three customers per day just to rent their own window. There is no freedom in the Red Light District. It is filled with victims of human trafficking. It is full of women who are forced to sell their bodies each night. It is a form of modern-day slavery. And it is the evil in the world that hurts my heart more than anything else.
As we walked through the district, my heart sank into my stomach and my eyes filled with tears. I felt the weight of the evil around me, I felt sorrow for the women who are victims of this industry, and I felt helpless because I wanted to be able to do something useful. It was frustrating to walk those streets and know there was nothing we could do to immediately aid the women trapped behind the windows; however, we were still reminded of God’s power. We were reminded that He is bigger than the Red Light District, He is bigger than prostitution, and He is bigger than all the evil in this world.
As a campus community, we talk a lot about justice and how we can help those who have no voice. Though we can feel helpless when there’s nothing practical we can do to fix situations like prostitution, modern-day slavery or human trafficking, we can pray to the God we know with reassurance that He is bigger than those horrible things.
We can speak up for those who can’t. We can be lights in our fallen worlds. Prayer is our weapon, and we often forget how powerful it really is. Join me in being a warrior by praying for those trapped in the Red Light District as well as other women forced to be a part of similar situations.