Red-light district

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De Wallen, Amsterdam's red-light district, is internationally known and one of the main tourist attractions of the city. It offers legal prostitution and a number of coffee shops that sell marijuana. Red-light district of Amsterdam by day. 2012.JPG
De Wallen, Amsterdam's red-light district, is internationally known and one of the main tourist attractions of the city. It offers legal prostitution and a number of coffee shops that sell marijuana.

A red-light district or pleasure district is a part of an urban area where a concentration of prostitution and sex-oriented businesses, such as sex shops, strip clubs, and adult theaters, are found. In most cases, red-light districts are particularly associated with female street prostitution, though in some cities, these areas may coincide with spaces of male prostitution and gay venues. [1] Areas in many big cities around the world have acquired an international reputation as red-light districts. [2]


The term red-light district originates from the red lights that were used as signs for brothels. [3]

Origins of term

A statue in honor of sex workers in Amsterdam, Netherlands Sex worker statue Oudekerksplein Amsterdam.jpg
A statue in honor of sex workers in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red-light districts are mentioned in the 1882 minutes of a Woman's Christian Temperance Union meeting in the United States. [4] The Oxford English Dictionary records the earliest known appearance of the term "red light district" in print as an 1894 article from the Sandusky Register , a newspaper in Sandusky, Ohio. [3]

Author Paul Wellman suggests that this and other terms associated with the American Old West originated in Dodge City, Kansas, home to a well-known prostitution district during the 19th century, which included the Red Light House saloon. [5] This has not been proven, but the Dodge City use was likely responsible for the term becoming pervasive. [6] A widespread folk etymology claims that early railroad workers took red lanterns with them when they visited brothels so their crew could find them in the event of an emergency. However, folklorist Barbara Mikkelson regards this as unfounded. [7]

A more plausible explanation might originate from the time when sailors came back from sea to Amsterdam (ca. 1650): Women working as prostitutes, deprived from proper hygiene and running fresh water, carrying red lanterns — with this color light camouflaging boils, zits, inequalities in the face and on the skin — made clear they were available as women of pleasure. Sailors, finally getting their relative royal pay, having been at sea for quite some time and looking for relief could so easily spot who would be available. In a later stage the red lanterns evolved into red lights at brothels. Since this was close to the main harbour, this district became known as the red-light district:

One of the many terms used for a red-light district in Japanese is akasen ( 赤線 ), literally meaning "red-line". Japanese police drew a red line on maps to indicate the boundaries of legal red-light districts. In Japanese, the term aosen ( 青線 ), literally meaning "blue-line", also exists, indicating an illegal district.

In the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the term "sporting district" became popular for legal red-light districts. Municipal governments typically defined such districts explicitly to contain and regulate prostitution. [8]

Some red-light districts (such as De Wallen, Netherlands, or Reeperbahn, Germany) are places which are officially designated by authorities for legal and regulated prostitution. [2] Often, these red-light districts were formed by authorities to help regulate prostitution and other related activities, such that they were confined to a single area. [9]

Some red-light districts (such as those in The Hague) [10] are under video surveillance. This can help counter illegal forms of prostitution (such as child prostitution), in these areas that do allow regular prostitution to occur.

Legality of prostitution
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Decriminalization - No criminal penalties for prostitution
Legalization - prostitution is legal and regulated
Abolitionism - prostitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal; prostitution is not regulated
Neo-abolitionism - illegal to buy sex and for 3rd party involvement, legal to sell sex
Prohibitionism - prostitution illegal
Legality varies with local laws Prostitution laws of the world2.svg
Legality of prostitution
  Decriminalization - No criminal penalties for prostitution
  Legalization – prostitution is legal and regulated
  Abolitionism – prostitution is legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal; prostitution is not regulated
  Neo-abolitionism – illegal to buy sex and for 3rd party involvement, legal to sell sex
  Prohibitionism – prostitution illegal
  Legality varies with local laws

See also

Related Research Articles

Storyville, New Orleans Human settlement in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America

Storyville was the red-light district of New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1897 to 1917. It was established by municipal ordinance under the New Orleans City Council, to regulate prostitution. Sidney Story, a city alderman, wrote guidelines and legislation to control prostitution within the city. The ordinance designated a thirty-eight block area as the part of the city in which prostitution, although still nominally illegal, was tolerated or regulated. The area was originally referred to as "The District", but its nickname, "Storyville", soon caught on, much to the chagrin of Alderman Story. It was bound by the streets of North Robertson, Iberville, Basin, and St. Louis Streets. It was located by a train station, making it a popular destination for travelers throughout the city, and became a centralized attraction in the heart of New Orleans. Only a few of its remnants are now visible. The neighborhood lies in Faubourg Tremé and the majority of the land was repurposed for public housing.

Brothel Place of prostitution

A brothel, bordello, ranch, or whorehouse is a place where people engage in sexual activity with prostitutes. Technically, any premises where prostitution commonly takes place qualifies as a brothel. However, for legal or cultural reasons, establishments often describe themselves as massage parlors, bars, strip clubs, body rub parlours, studios, or by some other description. Sex work in a brothel is considered safer than street prostitution.

De Wallen neighborhood

De Wallen or De Walletjes is the largest and best known red-light district in Amsterdam. It consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights and blacklight. Window prostitution is the most visible and typical kind of red-light district sex work in Amsterdam.

Sex show Live performance of sexual activity

A sex show is a form of live performance that features one or more performers engaging in some form of sexual activity on stage for the entertainment or sexual gratification of spectators. Performers are paid either by the spectators or by the organisers of the show. A performance can include actual or simulated autoerotic acts or sexual activity with another performer. The performance can be in a theater style, or it can be in a peep show style. An increasingly popular form of sex show is a webcam performance in which the viewer is able to view and interact with webcam models in real time.

Reeperbahn Street in Hamburgs St. Pauli district

The Reeperbahn is a street and entertainment district in Hamburg's St. Pauli district, one of the two centres of Hamburg's nightlife and also the city's major red-light district. In German, it is also nicknamed die sündigste Meile and Kiez. The Reeperbahn Festival is among the largest club festivals.

Prostitution in Germany

Prostitution in Germany is legal, as are other aspects of the sex industry, including brothels, advertisement, and job offers through HR companies. Full service sex work is widespread and regulated by the German government, which levies taxes on it. In 2016, the government adopted a new law, the Prostitutes Protection Act, in an effort to improve the legal situation of sex workers. However, the social stigmatization of sex work persists and many workers continue to lead a double life. Human rights organizations consider the resulting common exploitation of women from Eastern and Southeastern Europe to be the main problem associated with the profession.

Prostitution in the Netherlands Sex Work in The Netherlands

Prostitution in the Netherlands is legal and regulated. Operating a brothel is also legal. De Wallen, the largest and best-known Red-light district in Amsterdam, is a destination for international sex tourism.

Prostitution in Japan

Prostitution in Japan has existed throughout the country's history. While the Anti-Prostitution Law of 1956 states that "No person may either do prostitution or become the customer of it", loopholes, liberal interpretations and loose enforcement of the law have allowed the sex industry to prosper and earn an estimated 2.3 trillion yen per year.

Cheongnyangni 588 Place in Dongdaemun District

Cheongnyangni 588 was a red-light district in Seoul, South Korea near Cheongnyangni station. At its peak in the 1980s it housed 200 brothels and 500 prostitutes, and was the largest red-light district in Seoul. Cheongnyangni is often referred to as "Oh Pal Pal", meaning "five eight eight" in Korean possibly due to a bus which once passed through the area.

Zona Norte, Tijuana Neighborhood of Tijuana in Baja California, Mexico

Zona Norte is an official neighborhood, as well as a red light district located in Tijuana, Mexico. It is among the largest red-light districts in North America known for its brothels, which present themselves in public as strip clubs and bars, similar to gentlemen's clubs in the United States.

Prostitution in Belgium

Prostitution in Belgium is legal but certain related activities such as soliciting and pimping are illegal. Belgian municipalities may also introduce further prohibition or regulation. Human trafficking or exploiting individuals involved in prostitution is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

Prostitution Engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment

Prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment. Prostitution is sometimes described as sexual services, commercial sex or, colloquially, hooking. It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. A person who works in this field is called a prostitute and is a type of sex worker.

Herbertstraße Street in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, Germany

Herbertstraße is a street in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, located near the main red light district Reeperbahn. It is the only street in the city where it is still possible to find prostitutes in "windows" as in the famous De Wallen district of Amsterdam. It is reputed to have Hamburg's best looking and most expensive prostitutes. At its peak about 250 women worked there.


Akasen (赤線) is Japanese slang and a collective term which was used to identify districts in Japan where prostitution and the sex industry flourished until 1958, specifically during the period of January 1946 through March 1958.

Prostitution in Europe

The legality of prostitution in Europe varies by country.

San Antonio Sporting District

The Sporting District in the U.S. city of San Antonio, Texas was a red-light district in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was established by the city council to manage prostitution in the city. For a time it was one of the nation's largest vice districts with venues ranging from brothels to gambling halls. The area was officially shut down in 1941 resulting from the mobilization for World War II.

Window prostitution Showcase for prostitutes

Window prostitution is a form of prostitution that is fairly common in the Netherlands and surrounding countries. The prostitute rents a window plus workspace off a window operator for a certain period of time, often per day or part of a day. The prostitute is also independent and recruits her own customers and also negotiates the price and the services to be provided.

Prostitution in the Dutch Caribbean is legal and regulated. At least 500 foreign women are reportedly working in prostitution throughout the islands. Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Curaçao are sex tourism destinations.

Hotel Luxor Former brothel in Hamburg, Germany

The Hotel Luxor, also known as the Mehrer Hotel was the oldest brothel in Hamburg until its closure in April 2008. It was located on Große Freiheit in St. Pauli red-light district and first opened in 1948.


  1. Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City . Routledge. pp.  559. ISBN   9780415252256.
  2. 1 2 "History of the Red light District « What you should know about Amsterdam". Whatyoushouldknowaboutamsterdam.WordPress .com. 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  3. 1 2 "Red light (2.)". Oxford English Dictionary . June 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2010.[ dead link ]
  4. Minutes of the Ninth Annual Meeting. National Woman's Christian Temperance Union. 1882. pp. 332, 333 & 363.
  5. Wellman, Paul Iselin (1988). The Trampling Herd: The Story of the Cattle Range in America . University of Nebraska Press. p.  195. ISBN   0-8032-9723-8. Paul Wellman Dodge City red light.
  6. Barra, Allen (2009). Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN   978-0803220584.
  7. Barbara Mikkelson (July 9, 2007). "Red Light District". Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  8. Woolston, Howard Brown (1921). Prostitution in the United States. New York: The Century Company. p.  105 107. ISBN   978-0-217-03857-7.
  9. "The Red Light District of Amsterdam". CamsterDamn. Archived from the original on May 20, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  10. "Camera surveillance in red-light districts in The Hague". January 24, 2014. Archived from the original on 2016-10-08.

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