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ANTWERP - Tapping his fingers lightly on a biometric keypad, George Vos opens the door to his workplace, ushering his visitors up the stairs into a darkened room of scarlet bedding and golden-embroidered cushions, of multi-coloured sex toys and, in the corner, a large, black cage. A one-time transvestite prostitute turned entrepreneur, he is now the manager of Villa Tinto, the designer-finished, state of the art, super-brothel in the centre of Antwerp's red-light district that hopes to revolutionise the image of prostitution in Belgium.
The business, set up by well-known Belgian businessman Franky De Coninck is groundbreaking both in its design and in the ideas behind it. Not only was the building designed by the architect Arne Quinze - who has advised Brad Pitt on his interior decor - but it also has a host of features aimed at making life safer for prostitutes and clients alike.
Opposite the brothel entrance, in the dockside area of the city, Schipperskwartier, is a police station. Each room has panic buttons in case clients turn violent. A doctor is just around the corner and, because of the biometric keypad, there is no sub-letting of any of the 51 rooms to unauthorised prostitutes. No one here is a victim of people-traffickers and only women with EU passports can work from Villa Tinto.
Yet the creation of such brothels has polarised the debate in Europe over how to deal with prostitution: In Paris recently the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discussed the continent's different approaches to dealing with the sex trade. Meanwhile women's groups have stepped up their opposition to new experiments in tolerance.
But in Antwerp itself Villa Tinto is deemed such a success that it features in the political campaign ahead of forthcoming municipal elections. For several centuries prostitution has been centred in the port district of Antwerp but, over the last few years, it has been concentrated into just three streets.