Category Archives: Sex Work

Please support Dutch sex workers

Sex workers in Groningen and PROUD, the Dutch union for sex workers, are concerned about the illegal registration of personal data of sex workers. This is happening through the mandatory intake and distribution of a registration card in the city of Groningen. Both the intake procedure as the registration of personal data are serious violations of human rights and a breach of privacy laws.  Please support Dutch sex workers and sign the petition.

groningenThe mandatory intake is illegal, stigmatizing and humiliating. It has serious consequences, including profiling by the police and discrimination by the authorities. In addition, the mandatory intake can also be potentially dangerous for foreign sex workers and/or sex workers that still live abroad, as sex work is not legal everywhere.

Police in the Netherlands have informed families of sex workers about their profession, they enter homes without a proper warrant, they take money from sex workers without their consent and ask prostitutes invasive and humiliating questions. Sex workers need to be protected from human rights violations and state and police violence.

Sex workers will leave Groningen, have done this already or will choose to work illegally. Illegal working sex workers have no acces to the legal system, thereby being at greater risk of experiencing violence.

The sex workers of Groningen and PROUD want the city of Groningen to reconsider its policy and stop the mandatory intake and illegal registration. Please support Dutch sex workers by signing their petition.

The Worth of Whores

Don’t measure a woman’s worth by her clothes, it says. With bad words describing the kind of judgement you might get when you wear clothes that are too revealing. Worse than “slut”, worse than “asking for it” is the word “whore” all the way on the bottom. It’s quite correct, I fear. In our minds, sluts and cockteasers are bad enough. But whores are most certainly the lowest of the low. I was watching an episode of American Horror Story the other day. One of the characters cried to her lover “I’m not a whore, I matter! I matter!”.

Dutch media usually depict sex workers as victims, innocent girls forced into a life of prostitution. Never because they thought it was their best option, but always coerced by pimps or poverty. But tv shows and movies usually seem to take it a step further. Sex workers become completely dehumanised. A dead hooker is just a thing, not really a person. Their death isn’t even worth reporting. Their murderer gets away with it, or is chased by police after he makes the mistake of killing a real woman. Suddenly, all those dead hookers become an interesting trail. This happens so often and so completely that it becomes in a sense almost invisible. Unless you are a sex worker or love a sex worker, and then it starts to hurt.

When you work in an industry as stigmatised as the sex trade, jokes which dehumanise workers and normalise violence have a considerable impact. As long as the viewing public continues to get a kick out of tropes such as “dead hookers in the boot of a car”, the violence some of us encounter at work will be seen as inevitable, and, worse still, unchangeable.

The Dutch Sex Work Downfall

Sex work in the Netherlands is heavily regulated. Although sex workers themselves want full decriminalisation, just like all other sex workers all over the world, the reality is that prostitution here is legalised. It’s subject to many prostitution-specific laws, restricted by all sorts of regulations and anything but fully decriminalised. The leader of our Christian Party is now pushing new laws that would further criminalise sex work: he wants to make it illegal to pay for the services of a sex worker when you should have been able to know she’s a victim of exploitation. “For example, when she’s working from a cellar somewhere, bruised, with two big Bulgarian guys at the door” says a member of the ‘Green Left’ party.

At first glance, this would make sense. Politicians often paint this picture of the perfect victim: from an Eastern European country, very young, doesn’t speak much Dutch or English, thought she was going to the Netherlands to work as a model or waitress, only to find herself in some dark and dirty little room, raped by up to 40 men a day. Some politicians keep it somewhat civil, but many fall into a semi-pornographic style when describing their fantasies.

corinneBut the National Reporter on Human Trafficking, Corinne Dettmeijer, who is in favour of this new law, actually gave the perfect argument against it: she’s hoping clients will go to legally working prostitutes instead of women who work from basements.

In the last couple of years, over half of legal working places for prostitutes have been closed. Brothels are shut down, windows are closed, and no new licences to work are given to anyone, certainly not to sex workers themselves. Those who still work from a licenced location are harassed by police, their workplaces broken into, their homes smashed up and their belongings taken. They are subject to random semi-arrests, where they’re put into police vans and taken to the station for questioning because they’re suspected of being a victim. Eventually police will find something, maybe drugs in someone’s locker of a bruise that can’t be explained and the licence is revoked and another work place shuts down.

Hotels are pressured into reporting any ‘suspicious’ activity, and although escort is not illegal, police do stalk and harass escorting sex workers. Many hotels no longer accept escorts or try to keep them out. Renting an appartement to work from is all but impossible, and working from home means your landlord can kick you out.

So voluntary workers are pushed into basements and sheds and caravans.

Regular security companies will not work with prostitutes. Just like banks and other organisations they stay far away from sex work. So if you’re working from a shed somewhere and you want some big guys to keep you safe, you’re forced to work with people who will do it. you know, off the record. Two big Bulgarian guys, perhaps.

And there you have it: the girl working from a shed with two big guys at the door.

As Corinne Dettmeijer says: clients need to be able to go to legally working prostitutes. The only people who benefit from this increasing criminalisation are traffickers, just look at all the work this brings them, security gigs, finding hidden workplaces, and oh the vulnerable position the government has placed these prostitutes in, I’m sure traffickers are deeply grateful.

I propose a radical new approach.

  • Make it illegal for cities to not provide plenty of legal workplaces for prostitutes. If there is just one sex worker that wishes to work but can’t find a legal place, the city needs to pay a huge fine to the sex worker. Zero tolerance for any city that requires their prostitutes to work in the shadows. Zero.
  • Reward organisations that will work with sex workers. Whether it’s a bank or a security company, we need to do the exact opposite of what we’re doing now. Instead of being suspicious, and discouraging companies from working with prostitutes, we need to reward it. Not sure how yet. Maybe give prostitution-friendly companies an advantage when giving out government-related jobs?
  • Remove all laws that are specifically about prostitution. It shouldn’t matter if you paid her, if you’re having sex with someone and you really know she doesn’t want it, that’s rape. It already is by the way, it’s not like the law says “rape is bad unless it’s a whore then you’re fine”. Exploitation is always bad, rape is always bad, trafficking is always bad, regardless of her profession.

When all these things are done and sex workers are working happily and without stigma or discrimination, and traffickers are pretty much out of a job because the market is already full of voluntary workers and they don’t need traffickers for security or housing or anything else anymore, and you still have this fantasy of women who are raped in basements with two Bulgarian guys at the door, perhaps come to me so we can work on you accepting your kink and not forcing it on other people, ok? There’s consensual ways you can explore this stuff without involving unwilling prostitutes who are only harmed by your hero-fetish.

Also, check out the new president of Proud, Yvette Luhrs, in the video! She’s amazing!yvette

End Demand for Traffickers: Decriminalise Prostitution

There’s only one group of people that would be harmed by full decriminalisation of sex work: human traffickers. Traffickers benefit from (partial) criminalisation because it creates opportunities for work for them. Take the Netherlands, for example. Helping people from outside the country find work in the Dutch sex industry is illegal, it’s in the law that you cannot do that. Women (and men) wishing to work here are allowed to do so, but anyone helping them in any way is breaking the law so no regular companies provide that service. This is amazing for traffickers and criminal organisations, who are making a lot of money assisting sex workers who need help getting started in the Netherlands. Because prostitutes are so dependent on these criminals this often leads to situations of exploitation.julie

It’s actually the biggest cause of trafficking in this country..

Imagine we decriminalise helping people from abroad work in the Dutch sex industry. Human traffickers would hate that, because it would open up the market place for good and reliable organisations to provide that service, it would decriminalise sex workers who help each other out, it would make it easier to sort things out yourself because it would no longer be illegal for friends or future employees to help find housing, get a ticket, get information. The opportunities for traffickers would decrease dramatically, and they’d hate it.

The tweet above is by a Dutch anti-prostitution activist and says “prostitution and human trafficking are not the same, but there are so many whorewalkers that there are not enough ‘free’ prostitutes for them”. Whorewalker is a derogatory term used by anti’s for clients of sex workers. But she’s right: the absolute best thing for human traffickers is if the market is cleared of voluntary prostitutes. The fewer independent workers, the more room for women in compromised situations that they can exploit!

Seriously though, complete decriminalisation and de-stigmatisation would be any trafficker’s nightmare. Clients of sex workers strongly prefer happy workers, the demand for bruised crying malnourished women is super-duper small, an increase of voluntary sex workers would pretty much wipe away their business. And if those sex workers would be able to pay for the services of regular accountants, regular workplaces, regular housing, regular security, well… traffickers don’t even want to think about that scenario.

Sometimes I wonder if the Dutch government is infiltrated by traffickers, they’re working so hard to maximise traffickers’ profits. They’re closing legal work places, decreasing licenced locations, increasing police brutality, disprespecting sex workers’ human rights, they’re doing everything to discourage women who have other choices and clearing the sector of ‘free’ prostitutes.  It’s any trafficker’s dream.

But it’s probably not an infiltration of traffickers though. We already know from research that (partial) criminalisation is bad for prostitutes and increases exploitation. We already know criminalising clients makes life more dangerous for sex workers. We already know that trafficking thrives when prostitution is criminalised. I honestly believe that people who are criminalising sex work already know this: they support it because they think prostitutes should be punished and women should be stopped from having sex for money.

safeSo please, if you think criminalising sex work would be a good idea, think hard who it would be helping. Would women with limited choices really be better off if another choice was taken away from them, or their safety compromised for other people’s moral battle? Would women who are being exploited truly benefit if the criminals exploiting them would be given the whole sex industry on a silver platter? Would clients who wish to pay for the services of a woman selling sex be better off if those women would be forced to leave the industry and hand it all over to traffickers? And who would be harmed if women who wish to sell sex would be free to do so without fear of police violence or discrimination by the state?

Let’s end demand for trafficking and fuck those criminals over big time: let’s fully decriminalise sex work!

(thanks to Raven_AB for helping me find the video)

Damaged Goods

andreadworkinProstitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman’s body. Those of us who say this are accused of being simple-minded. But prostitution is very simple. (…) In prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is impossible to use a human body in the way women’s bodies are used in prostitution and to have a whole human being at the end of it, or in the middle of it, or close to the beginning of it. It’s impossible. And no woman gets whole again later, after.”  — Andrea Dworkin

Interview with the partner of a sex worker

Marijke: Hey Tim, thanks for doing this interview! You’re the partner of a sex worker. So what exactly does your girlfriend do?partner of a sex worker
Tim: Well, I can’t tell you exactly, for privacy reasons. But she’s been working as a prostitute for almost a decade. Her work is fully legal and licenced, she pays her taxes like everyone else. We’ve been living together for a few years and I’ve always been fully aware of her profession.

Did you ever find it difficult?
Well, honestly, yes. When we started dating and she told me, there was a lot I had to work
through. We’re brought up with this idea that there’s something wrong with prostitution, that something must be wrong with a woman if she wants to do such a thing. I really liked her, but is this someone I can introduce to my parents, start a family with? And it made me feel insecure, what does it say about me if I end up with someone who will sleep with anyone, what’s wrong with me? And also that, as a man, it’s humiliating if your partner slept with more people than you did, it’s a masculinity thing, I guess. I came into the relationship with a lot of hang-ups about sex work. If she did it only because she liked it than okay, maybe, but if she had sex just for the money it felt like it devalued her as a person. Looking back, I don’t know how she put up with me and all my bullshit!

I take it you’ve changed your mind?
Oh yes. I think the biggest change is that I’ve realised that sex workers are just people, you know? And I began to understand that the value of your relationship isn’t about how many people you have or have not slept with, but that it’s about having a healthy relationship with someone you love. And I think I’ve changed my perspective on sex, it doesn’t make a person cheap or less than. In fact, I think it’s admirable when people have the courage to follow their own dreams, make sexual choices that are good for them. When we were just together I didn’t really want to tell my friends, what if they don’t approve or think badly of her? Now I’m proud of it and I want them to know. Not just because I’m proud, but also in order to be able to be honest about my secret to somebody.

That sounds really great. But it’s not only your own feelings you have to deal with – the rest of the world isn’t always accepting of sex work. Are you worried about that?
Yes. There’s so much to be worried about, actually. I’m worried that when we have children, we’ll get child services on our back. You hear so much about full-on discrimination of prostitutes, it’s scary. It’s easy to forget partners of sex workers are just as vulnerable too. And with the current human trafficking hype my rights are even further limited, there are even laws being proposed that would make it legal for police to go into my/our house whenever they want, without as much as a warrant. I, as a male partner, also have to be so careful, even with the current laws I could easily be prosecuted for human trafficking. Even though I am in no way involved in her work, I always have to be on guard.

Yeah, I think in the sex workers’ rights movement we talk a lot about why decriminalisation is important for the safety of sex workers, and there’s some attention to the rights and wellbeing of clients. But I think we don’t always realise how dangerous it can be for people involved in a sex worker’s life, such as their partners. Even giving her a ride to work could get you in trouble.
Exactly, I have to be careful about picking her up from work. That’s crazy, right? If she had any other type of job it would be no problem. You have to be careful, if she has a booking in Germany or Belgium and I drive her I am literally, according to the law, trafficking her.

Does it help that you’re white? I know that sounds horrible when I put it that way, but the system in the Netherlands is deeply classist and racist, they go after people who are poor and/or black. Our idea of a pimp or trafficker is a black or Eastern European guy, not a university educated white man.
Yes, I think that it definitely helps that I’m white, I have a good job and I actually make more money than she does. My partner and I are both university educated, if child services ever investigate us we talk and act in a way that won’t set off all of their triggers. I’ll get to defend myself and I think I have the advantage that I am able to, people are willing to listen.

You don’t look like a loverboy.mansuit
Right. But I am still careful. I’m good with numbers but she does her own bookkeeping, it’s little things like that, you have to make sure you don’t create any wrong impressions.

Are you ever worried about her safety?
At work? No.

Why not?
There’s not much to worry about. After a few years of hearing about her work, how she protects her safety, hearing her stories, both positive and negative, I have a pretty clear idea of what risks are involved. Compared to many other jobs it’s relatively low-risk, actually.

And her clients?
No, I’m not worried about them. Of course there’s the occasional bad guy, the thing I’m most worried about is idiots who try to pull the condom off. But my partner handles things like that very well, she’s responsible and knows what to do in such situations. I trust her.

What about STD’s?
No, we have reasonable safer sex practices. She practices safer sex at work, we get tested regularly, her work environment prioritises her safety. Accidents can happen, and assholes like the ones I mentioned before can happen, but all in all I think we’re managing this well. From what I understand we’re actually at a below-average risk of catching an STD.

All of that sounds really good and positive. Is there anything you struggle with regarding your partner’s work?
Yeah, I think what’s difficult is that, as a male partner of a sex worker, there’s not really a place for you. It’s not a very male-friendly business, unless they know you well you’re often regarded with suspicion. It’s different when your partner works in one place and people get to know you, but in general, managers really don’t want you in their establishment, you don’t have a role, you know? If I have a company barbecue I take my girlfriend, even if they don’t know her well she can walk into my office, as a society we sort of know what to do and expect with an employee’s partner. But when you’re the partner of a sex worker, you don’t really have a place in the whole thing.
I think people underestimate the burden it can place on a partner. I live with a secret too. I have to lie about my girlfriends profession everywhere. The question, what does your girlfriend do, sounds casual, but for me this is where my “double life” starts. If people find out it could be a problem at my work place, I could even be arrested, it’s as much my secret as her secret. But she has a whole community around her, other sex workers she can talk to, she has peers at her work who are in the same situation. I don’t, I’m kind of on my own with this. There are not many people I can talk to. And I’m, in a sense, in the most vulnerable position. If my partner had bad intentions she could truly wreck my life, if she wants to divorce me and ruin me in the process, she can accuse me of forcing her and even if it’s not true and there’s no evidence I stand pretty much powerless. I trust her completely, but I think people don’t realise this, how vulnerable you are as a sex worker’s partner. When I look back to my struggles with sex work when we just met, about my girlfriend having sex with other people, I didn’t realise the real issues with being in a relationship with a sex worker. About the vulnerable position I’d be in. When I told one of my friends he asked me “are you okay with this?” and he didn’t mean in an emotional sense. He meant, are you okay with the impact this will have on your life?

What do you think would happen if people found out?
I don’t know. Most of our friends know and that’s not been a problem, they don’t always agree with it but I experience support in my friendships. Sex work is so stigmatised, I don’t know how it would affect my career. I’m not too worried about most of my direct colleagues, people who know me and I can explain and defend myself to, but people higher up the ladder or clients can be very important in the future of my career and I don’t know if they’d give me the benefit of the doubt if they knew my partner was a prostitute. I don’t know what would happen. I don’t think I’d lose my job directly but it could seriously hinder my career.

Is that a reason for you to want her to stop doing sex work?
No, that’s really up to her. The thing is, I’m really proud of her and her work, she’s independent, she likes what she does. I think I’d have a bigger problem with it if my partner worked somewhere she would be exploited, say she worked in health care, where people work ridiculous hours for terrible pay. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with people wanting to work in health care, but honestly, I’d rather my partner worked somewhere she feels appreciated, decides her own hours, receives a good income and is happy.

So you don’t want to end demand for nurses then, for their own good?
Haha, no.

What do you like about her work?
I love the stories she comes home with. She’ll tell me about a client who might be nervous or insecure and then they have the time of their life with her, and I love hearing about that, imagining how it must have been for them and what a great experience they had. It’s just fun to hear how she made their day brighter, had fun. I can see that makes her really happy too. She usually comes home in a good mood, she’s enthusiastic and proud about her work. She talks with interesting people too, I think people underestimate how much quality time prostitutes spend with clients.

Do you get the impression she likes most of her bookings?
Yes. Well, most are just routine I think, it’s simply her work. Like in any job at the end of the day it was just a day’s work, but most days she comes home with some interesting story, or met someone she had a great connection with. From what I understand she doesn’t always have sex that is satisfying to her, but she usually finds something to like in a person and have a pleasant interaction with her client.

You make it sound perfect.
Well no, it’s not. Sometimes she doesn’t like a client, they’re exhausting or pushy, it’s like any job, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s just work. But, overall you can do worse I think.

Does her work influence your sex life?
Yes, when she works a lot it does. It’s not that she wants less sex, we have a normal sex life, but it’s mainly that her desire for physical contact becomes less, she doesn’t want to cuddle as much. I think that’s because she already had that need met, she’s been physically close to people, while I didn’t and still desire it. When that happens we talk about it, and see what we can do to meet my needs without cuddle-overloading her.

What do you think needs to change in the Netherlands regarding sex work?
We need a reasonable, fair system that would facilitate sex workers to work legally, independently and without fear of police and government interruption. The current system is so vague and unclear, if the government wants to hinder you they can. We need a clear system in which sex workers are seen as workers, with clear and consistent rules, so sex workers can run their business as a business. I think that the current solutions offered by the government are ineffective and unnecessary limiting sex workers personal freedom, and also endangering the legal position of their spouse.

What do you want people to know about being a sex workers’ partner?
Well, the image I get from the media and the government is that partners of female sex workers cpiplekissact as pimps or loverboys. I think that this image wrong and does not really exist. In the same way you can’t recognise a sex worker in normal life, you can’t recognise their partners either. I
think most sex workers’ partners are supportive people with ordinary lives, we live in normal houses, have careers.

Any last words?
That sex work is just a job, and sex workers are just people. I love my partner, she loves me, we have a normal relationship and a normal life. The real harms come from discrimination and stigma, not from sex work itself.

Revolting Rescue Industry: StopLoverboysNu

It’s no news that people who say they want to help victims of forced prostitution often treat those they claim to help horribly, and actually often exploit victims for their own financial gain. The situation is most serious in countries where sex work is criminalised. In Cambodia sex workers are beaten to death after being abducted from brothels. In the United States prostitutes are manipulated into religious brainwashing camps and are threatened with incarceration. In Thailand the rescue industry poses a greater threat to the safety of sex workers than traffickers do.

AnitaLoverboys470_910505qThe Netherlands provides some protection from the rescue industry, but one of the more well-known anti-trafficking ‘rescue’ organisations StopLoverboysNu (‘stop loverboys now’) has been active for years despite clear signs of trouble. Loverboy is a racist Dutch term for a black boy who pretends to love a white girl and then lures her into the dark world of prostitution. StopLoverboysNu, like Somaly Mam, loves to parade those victims around and show them off in the media. It’s lucrative, there’s a book and donations and Anita de Wit loves her role as celebrity.

Like most rescue organisations it’s quite unclear where the money goes, and because they’re not an actual health care organisation they’re not under supervision to see if their care is any good. So as long as they’re not committing literal crimes, they can go on exploiting women for profit.

Helping Victims? Nope, Just Helping Themselves

Many anti-prostitution activists claim they are against prostitution because it victimises women. In their eyes decriminalised sex work would increase forced prostitution and human trafficking, so they feel that the whole sex trade should be stopped. Even women who say they choose sex work are seen as victims of an unjust system, and anti-prostitution activists feel that women who ‘choose’ sex work should be helped by getting them out of poverty, providing proper health care and making other employment options available to them. They’re about helping victims.

Or so they claim.

It’s good money, fighting sex work. Rescue organisations are amazingly well-funded, activists are flown all over the world to speak and it’s a great boost for your career when you were involved in a women’s rights organisation. The salaries are good. Very good.

But I don’t know of any other industry that is so hostile towards to people they claim to want to help. They out sex workers in countries where the sex worker can go to jail for what they did. They tell prostitutes to be silent and actively bully and threaten them when they’re not. They want rich white actresses to speak for whores because actual sex workers are too privileged (wish I made that one up..).

But the worst thing?

They refuse to help actual victims. We’re not sure where they are spending all that money, but it’s not on helping victims in the sex industry.

Sex workers have often contacted rescue organisations and anti-prostitution activists who claim to want to help victims for actual help, but never got any response. Instead, it’s often the sex worker community that actually helps those in need, arrange money, housing, legal aid and other necessities. While at the same time receiving threats, verbal violence and abuse from ‘rescuers’.

I think this is important to realise. Rescuers will often frame it as if they want to help victims while pro-sex work activists just care about themselves and their money, but the opposite is true. For sex workers, it’s their lives, their safety. It’s anti-prostitution activists who profit from the fight against whores.

 

I can’t even…

Sometimes you read stuff and you just, you can’t even… So in case you were wondering if end-demand laws, criminalisation of clients of sex workers and other ‘Nordic Model’ stuff is to protect women? Yeah. No.

“We don’t want to make life safe for prostitutes, we want to do away with prostitution.”
Senator Donald Plett at a hearing on whether or not Canada should criminalise clients of sex workers.

“Of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law.”
– Sweden’s trafficking unit head Ann Martin on their laws criminalising clients of sex workers.