by Sabrina Curtis

Each year, tourists make getaways to Europe’s most popular destinations. One of the most curiously-explored is the city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam attracts an abundant 12.2 million people per year with its unique cultural allure. A major point of interest that entices foreign tourists is the Red Light District with its sexual appeal.  Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and as the city attracts more tourism, it becomes an increasingly viable profession for many women looking for work.

De Wallen or De Walletjes is the largest and best known red-light district in Amsterdam and a major tourist attraction. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov/

Some of the women who inhabit the windows of the Red Light District are there by choice, but others are trafficked into enslavement and forced into prostitution. Many Amsterdam locals believe that all women employed in the Red Light District have chosen to work as prostitutes; with prostitution being legal, this comes as no surprise.  Red light districts play an overwhelming role in supporting sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and young girls. The demand for prostitution creates the need to traffic more women into Europe to fulfill the necessities of the city.

Enslaved women become mentally trapped and are monitored by an authoritarian male figure, often referred to as a pimp. Women forced into prostitution are typically between 18 and 21 years old, while trafficking victims more generally range in age from 18 to 24. The age comparison of trafficked victims in general to prostitutes in particular highlights the convenience of using woman for sexual exploitation in areas where prostitution has become a societal norm.

There is no way to tell the difference between someone who has chosen the profession on their own and one who has fallen victim. 98 percent of women coaxed into European human trafficking come within from the region. Many of the victims go unnoticed because victims are meant to blend in with the prostitute population; a trafficked victim often displays no distinguishing characteristics to differentiate her from a prostitute who has chosen the profession. This means if red light districts continue to sell sex, many victims have no hope for rescue.

On average, 2.5 million people annually become victim to human trafficking.  According to the 2012 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 62 percent of trafficked victims were used for sexual exploitation; 75 percent are woman and girls. Many activists have become involved in the global initiative to fight human trafficking. A European organization called Breaking Chains Network, founded by April Foster, helps woman who have escaped human trafficking. The organization offers support as women acclimate back into society and learn life skills.

As long as sex trafficking is allowed to continue, red light districts and the people who bring women there illegally will continue to exploit those who have fallen victim to this industry. The real magnitude of this issue will never be known because of the many victims that are left unaccounted and those perpetrators that go undiscovered.