I created this image after a recent trip to Amsterdam. I wanted to create an image to illustrate the harsh world of being a sex worker in one of the World’s most famous Red Light Districts. I am not used to creating images like this – I find it easier to create pictures of women looking beautiful and empowered. But not all women have the luxury of feeling that way; many women suffer degradation, vulnerability, and feel unsafe on a daily basis; so as my aim is to illustrate women through ‘story telling’ images, I guess there was always going to come a time when I would produce an image like this….
In 1957 Annie Zentveld also known as Chinese Annie (she had an Oriental look about her) was murdered. She was a girl who worked in the brothel myself and my friends visited whilst in Amsterdam last month. The person who killed her has never been held to account.
The building in which Annie was brutally murdered is now home to the museum of prostitution. Located in one of the rooms is a memorial stone dedicated to the memory of Annie, along with a plaque detailing the murders of so many other sex workers who have lost their lives trying to earn an income in such a volatile way.
I would certainly recommend a visit to ‘Red Light Secrets’ the museum. I like many others thought a trip to the Red Light District would be a ‘bit of a laugh’, but was instantly brought back to reality when I saw the girls stood in the windows (some of whom looked younger than my own daughter). The museum visit starts out to be quite colourful and titillating and dare I say it exciting.
But it soon becomes apparent that this is a very harsh world to be a part of and being a prostitute is far from glamorous. One room in particular opened our eyes to the reality of being a prostitute, when you are invited to sit in front of a window (which is actually a TV screen) and forced to endure the degradation and utter horror, of how the people walking past the window treat you. The reactions of the men looking through the window at you range from seedy rude gestures, degrading insults, being laughed at, and sexual insults – to women throwing looks of disapproval at you whilst dragging their partners away from the window – it all left me feeling dirty and degraded.
I left the museum feeling so unhappy and depressed that in this day and age, any human being would ever feel that this lifestyle was their only option to make money to not only survive but in many cases provide for their families. And if this is the way a person has chosen to live their lives, then why isn’t more done to protect them?
Of course there are organizations out there who are trying to help the situation for female sex workers. ‘UN Women’ for instance. UN Women believe all human development and human rights issues have gender dimensions, and are focused and devoted to areas that are fundamental to women’s equality.
It is unknown how many prostitutes are working in Amsterdam, but having read several reports on this it appears the number ranges anywhere from 2 – 25 thousand. 90% of whom are believed to be female, 5% male and 5% transgender. Many of these are vulnerable women, some allegedly victims of human trafficking and organized crime gangs.
Also, many sex workers are known to have drug addictions – sometimes induced by pimps or ‘Loverboys’ to create dependency but often used as a form of escapism to cope with the horrendous harsh reality of living a life like this.
Women working within the sex industry experience more levels of violence against them than women working in any other fields known. Many of these cases are sexual assaults, some rape, and in extreme cases murder. Practically every year prostitutes are murdered in the Netherlands whilst at work, but with sex tourism bringing such a large income along with it, this is not always talked about. A survey carried out in 2001 reported that 93% of outdoor prostitutes and 60% of indoor workers had experienced violence of some kind from their clients.
I’ll just end my blog by apologizing if my image or the content of my blog has offended you in any way. That certainly wasn’t my intention. It’s just that so often we have low opinions of these women, but the prostitutes themselves aren’t really the problem are they? The problem is the people that abuse them.
All too often we see prostitutes as characters in films (take pretty woman for instance) or in Art (Olympia by Manet to name one of many) and the way they are depicted is a far cry from the life many sex workers lead. Did you know Marilyn Monroe was allegedly a prostitute? And yet by many seen as one of the most beautiful women who ever lived….
All women deserve the right to feel safe, no matter where they are, who they are, or how they choose to live their lives.
RIP Annie <3