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Now a small educational museum is opening in the heart of the district to show reality from the other side of the glass. Organizer Melcher de Wind says the Red Light Secrets museum is for those who want to learn more about how the area works without actually visiting a prostitute.
It is located in a former brothel, one of the narrow buildings typical of Amsterdam. Visitors enter the museum by passing a hologram of a beckoning prostitute. Then the displays attempt to place prostitutes as part of society. There is a short film showing the many people who work with the prostitutes: Prostitutes rent windows on a half-day basis and can work shifts that are 11 hours long, six days a week. They spend a lot of time waiting for customers. In their free time, they visit local hairdressers, nail salons and clothing shops.
There is also a nursery school in the heart of the red-light district, right next to the windows. In one scene in the film, a middle-aged prostitute in red leather receives an afternoon visit from her grade-school daughter. The museum makes only a passing attempt to document the history of prostitution tolerance in Amsterdam starting from the 16th century, when it was a port city flush with wealth from the spice trade and authorities turned a blind eye when sailors went ashore looking for women, or during the Napoleonic Wars, when prostitutes first began to have mandatory medical checkups to combat venereal disease among soldiers.
The museum focuses on the era since , when prostitution became legal in the Netherlands. Since then the city has been struggling — with some success — to eradicate pimps and human trafficking.
A new girl who appears in a window will be noticed in a matter of hours and must be able to show that she is old enough and has approval to work. Van Doeveren says trafficking remains at the heart of the Dutch debate over the ethics of prostitution. There is also an acknowledgement, however, that the worst abuses of underage girls or prostitutes being exploited by pimps now take place out of sight in underground brothels — an ongoing challenge for police. At the museum, the tour resumes.