Category Archives: Sex Work

Sex workers rights: we’re winning

The Dutch political party VVD is getting on board with sex workers rights! In Amsterdam they have proposed a new initiative to improve the freedom and independence of prostitutes and although I’m sure it’s not perfect, it’s obvious politicians are realising sex workers need rights, not rescue. I’ve been very happy with some other parties in the Netherlands too, D66 is being awesome, GroenLinks is doing well, it’s good.

Some quotes from the proposal:

  • Prostitutes, like other entrepreneurs, want a government that facilitates and supports them in their entrepreneurship.
  • Since the legalisation of prostitution, sex workers and proprietors deal with laws and regulations intended to combat abuses such as exploitation and forced work. These rules can be obstructive for prostitutes who work out of their free will. A recent poll by the Prostitution Information Centre shows sex workers don’t desire supervision from the city. These urges to control are being experienced as emotionally taxing, exaggerated and a violation of privacy. Focus on exploitation and forced prostitution is unnecessarily stigmatising for sex workers.
  • Closing windows does not contribute to a safe working environment for sex workers.
  • VVD believes people who want to work as prostitutes should be enabled to do so independently.

This is good stuff. The proposal is not perfect and the whole situation in the Netherlands is still a mess, but it really seems people are starting to get that sex workers need more rights, not fewer rights. The human trafficking hype is starting to crumble, evil rescue organisations are being seen for what they are, and although we often take steps back, in the long run we’re moving in the right direction.

It’s so frustrating sometimes when you’re dealing with real anti’s. When they lie about facts, when they accuse you of believing forced prostitution is fine, when they tell others you don’t even exist. Sometimes you just need to shut down the internet and let it go, or go full snark on some lying bastard who will gladly sacrifice sex workers’ well-being and safety for his own agenda. When you’re in the middle of (online) activism you get in contact with a lot of the most extreme whorehaters and anti-sex work activists.

So I think it’s important to remember.. we’re winning. Human rights are winning.

Inside Australia’s Largest Brothel

I think this is a really lovely video, Inside Australia’s largest brothel. It seems sex workers can sometimes become defensive about their jobs because there is already so much negativity and stereotyping, so I enjoyed hearing these women talk about the negative sides of their job in such an open way. The interviewer obviously did something right :). Also, it shows yet again that men don’t “buy a piece of meat” or “a hole to fuck” but instead are looking for a connection, intimacy and to be accepted and seen. Australia has regulated sex work in most states which seems to work quite well – I’m hearing a lot of positive stories from working women here. Punishing consensual sex between adult simply should not be an option.

Understanding Prohibitionists

Getting into discussions with people who oppose sex workers’ rights can be absolutely draining. Most of us on the pro-side are sex workers or are close to sex workers, so these topics concern our own lives, our safety, the wellbeing of our loved ones. It causes an emotional reaction when something that basic is being attacked.

But not all prohibitionists, or ‘anti’s’, are alike. When I was younger I thought it was quite intuitive that a person can consent to commercial sex, and people around me generally seemed to believe that if a person really wanted to be a prostitute, more power to her. But I also believed, like the people around me, that very few women would want to have sex with ugly strangers. Surely most got into the business because they had no other choice. Like many people in my social circle I used to believe most whores needed help, financial or health-wise. The image I had was that of a drug-addicted sad person in a little unkempt flat. Except the few glamorous high-class escorts of course, whom intrigued me to no end. I used to believe most sex workers were of lower social-economic status which meant ‘my class’ had responsibilities to protect them. I used to believe that most sex workers preferred to get out of the business and would accept a nice little job with a cute little salary in a factory or in a service position if it were offered to them. Based on all these ideas I believed in a help-based approach, those few happy hookers we should leave alone, but healthcare and exit-programmes needed to be our first priority. Prostitutes were vulnerable women who needed our help.

Contact with actual sex workers challenged those arrogant assumptions like a motherfucker, obviously.

The Neutrals

Most anti’s are not truly anti’s, but rather neutrals who base their opinions on wrong information. Just like I did. And I think that as activists these neutrals should be our primary audience, because when they are confronted with enough facts that conflict their beliefs, they change their minds. They become allies.

The biggest problem when talking to neutrals is a process called cognitive dissonance reduction. We all want to believe we are reasonable people who base their opinions on good information. So when we’re told our actions were based on lies and myths and actually harmed the people we meant to help, that causes cognitive dissonance: it conflicts with what we believe about ourselves. To reduce this dissonance we can do three things. We can change our first belief (“seems I’m not such a good, reasonable person after all”), reject the conflicting belief (“Everyone knows most whores are unhappy, you’re wrong”) or find a way to reconcile the two beliefs (“Even good, reasonable people are sometimes mistaken. I guess I was wrong”). The last option is a bit of a blow to our ego, it’s a very vulnerable thing to do. A non-hostile enviroment where you don’t feel personally attacked makes it a lot easier to admit your mistakes.

We’re told a lot of lies about sex, women and sex work. The idea of sex workers’ agency itself challenges some of our culture’s most basic beliefs. So naturally it causes a lot of resistance when those beliefs are brought into question, nobody likes to change their opinion on what they had always believed to be true. But at the same time we do process new information, and we are capable of changing our minds.

In contrast to the name, some neutrals can sound convincingly anti. They’ll repeat the lies and myths and advocate for harmful and discriminatory laws, they might be in favour of the Nordic Model or write horrible articles. But beneath all of that are no real convictions, it’s just fluff.

Neutrals benefit from correct information and contact with actual sex workers. My partner was a pro-leaning neutral when I met him, he had never met a sex worker and didn’t know too much about the subject. All it took was a little bit of information and some socialising with the sex workers in my social circle to turn him into a full-blown sex workers’ rights supporter. I talked to a devout young Christian woman a couple of months ago whose church donated to a rescue organisation. I made sure not to make her feel attacked as I punched her in the brain with information about trafficking, the rescue industry, sex workers’ rights and problems around prostitution, and she changed her mind. The same people who think Jojanneke’s deceitful documentary was insightful will also consider what actual sex workers have to say. That’s why visibility is so important, and why PROUD and many other organisations are doing such a fucking great job. Neutrals can be reached, they change their minds and become allies.

The Bad Guys

But not all anti’s are honestly mistaken. Sex workers are a vulnerable group of people with very little protection, and it attracts bad guys like vulchers to a wounded animal. Amsterdam mayor v/d Laan isn’t closing workplaces for prostitutes because he believes it helps them, he knows perfectly well he’s sacrificing sex workers’ rights and safety for financial and political gains. He doesn’t care. I respected Felicia Anna for speaking to him, and I think her words will have an impact on some of the neutrals that saw the video. But the mayor doesn’t listen, because he already knows he’s harming whores. He believes he can get away with it. The rescue industry became a million-dollar business when people figured out they could freely abduct prostitutes and keep them as slaves if they call it ‘help’. People like Somaly Mam know perfectly well they are lying, and they make a profit off of the abuse of sex workers. They get way with it because neutrals don’t know better and believe the lies. The producers and host of the tv-show “8 Minutes” fully understand they contribute nothing of value to sex workers’ lives. They thought they could use prostitutes for free, abuse and humiliate them for their profit, and they did it because it’s good money. Bad Guys are against sex workers’ rights because they appreciate the opportunities to exploit the vulnerable.

(8 minutes didn’t get away with it though. Sex workers made noise and the show got cancelled! Here’s a picture of the awesome Mistress Matisse celebrating).


It’s no use trying to reason with Bad Guys, because they already understand. They know very well indeed that sex workers are harmed and only rights can stop the wrongs. They just don’t give a shit.

The Fetishists

Reading texts by certain anti-prostitution activists can become a bit awkward when you start to notice it reads like erotica. It’s common knowledge among psychologists and sexologists that many people get aroused by taboo subjects, sex isn’t just sweetness and light and roses. Some people find a healthy way to express these darker aspects of sexuality, kinksters for example are well-known for bringing these fantasies to the surface and acting on them in a consensual, conscious way. But when someone is taught not to recognise these urges, told sex should always be ‘making love’ and to deny any agressive, perverse sexual impulse they feel, it sometimes finds.. well, inappropriate ways of expression.

It’s important to note that all of us are a bit inappropriate when it comes to the suffering of others. There’s a reason why books and magazines so often describe rape, child abuse, assault and other forms of sexual violence in such a detailed and emotional way, readers seem to find it strangely pleasurable to feel horrified and want to know every dirty aspect of it. There’s a Dutch magazine called Panorama that intelligently combines horrific stories of abductions, murders and other shocking events with photo’s of sexy women, because they understand the physical excitement of reading about others’ misery is very much like physical arousal. I don’t necessarily believe this is wrong, but we need to draw the line when our perving becomes harmful to others.

“But didn’t you hear about this girl in Berlin the other day? She had been trafficked when she was only 11 years old, in her first year alone she was raped by up to 12 men a day. She was rarely allowed to shower and would have sperm in and on her as she slept. They raped her with huge objects too, sometimes even..”
“Look I understand, but criminalisation of adult sex work would not have helped her. Sex workers’ rights actually….”
“Did you not hear me? Three penisses! At the same time! They’d rape her as she was crying just imagine the sperm and…”

Not okay. Fetishists are hard to reach because they are so caught up in their perverted fantasies of powerful men, global gangs and white, young, innocent women who are shipped around and abused daily. When confronted with facts they simply start repeating their detailed fictional sex stories. They stalk the Red Lights District and ask prostitutes inappropriate questions about their sex life. You can often see them become a bit flushed, red moist lips slightly parted, a feverish look in their eyes. It freaks me out. Don’t involve me in your sexuality without my consent please. And don’t deny sex workers their rights because the idea that they are forced turns you on.

The Fantasist

The Fantasist is the less pervy version of the fetishists. It’s those people who will tell such obviously falls stories that you have to wonder if they believe it. They get something out of their myths of bad men and powerless girls, and seem to have somewhat lost touch with reality. They ‘cherry pick’ research to find upsetting details, repeat the most gruesome stories, get angry when confronted with more nuanced views, ignore actual sex workers and quote statistics that logically cannot be true. But even after you’ve explained that it’s not possible that three million young girls are trafficked each year, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 and average age of death 32, even after you show them the basic math, they go “lalalala” and continue repeating it. The myth means too much to them.

They are different from the fetishist in that they don’t seem to be creaming their panties as they’re talking, but they often do get that feverish look in their eyes. It’s like talking to someone who has lost themselves in fearful extremist religion, or with some other very strange belief like thinking they can move objects with their mind. The fact that nothing is moving just does not register. Facts do not come through.

I was a bit shocked to see Renate v/d Zee embarrass herself on television by quoting obviously false statistics, but even more shocked when I realised that she had indeed read these reports, read all these findings that contradict her beliefs, and then managed to not let it sink in but instead completely reverse the findings in her head, and then quote those on national television as if she didn’t realise she had twisted it all around. That’s scary.

The Fundie Anti’s

The Fundie Anti opposes sex work because of an understanding of how the sex industry works. They are different from the Neutrals in that they sometimes know quite a lot about prostitution, but interpret this information within a theoretical framework in which sex work is wrong by definition.

The Sexist Fundie believes that no woman could possibly want to do sex work, that male sexuality in inherently aggressive and that we need laws to restrict this violence. More often than not the reasoning is quite childish (“I’m a woman and don’t want to do sex work so no woman would want to do sex work”) and contains hateful assumptions about men (“you know how they are, they just want a hole to dump their seed in, they don’t care“). These are the Anti’s who will claim that there is in fact a big market for crying malnourished sex slaves, because obviously men don’t care about the women they fuck as long as they get to fuck her.

The Religious Fundie believes that sex work goes against God’s devine will. Prostitution is not how God intended sexuality to be like. A woman should value her sexual ‘purity’ and only give away her sex to a man who will pay her in the desired currency: love and commitment, not money. Religious Fundies usually seem to mean somewhat well – they truly believe it is naturally harmful for a woman to have sex outside of a committed relationship and socially harmful in that no man would want a ‘used’ woman so what will her future be like without a husband and kids, and isn’t that what every woman desires? Other Religious Fundies become vile and wish to punish those dirty, disobedient whores. Punish them until they submit to my, I mean God’s will! The male Religious Fundie Anti will sometimes let truly medieval statements slip: “do we wish to allow our women to prostitute themselves? Is that what we want for our daughters and wives?”.

The Marxist/RadFem Fundie believes prostitution must be understood within a context of various forms of oppression. I actually find this line of thinking quite interesting, although I have to admit that I don’t know enough to give a good summary of their beliefs and would urge readers to research more before judging. I’m discussing the two together because they have many similarities, but I understand there are differences. According to the Marxist/RadFem the practice of the selling of sex is a result of the systematic oppression of women within a capitalist society, intersecting with other forms of opression. According to them, in an egalitarian society sex work would not exist. These Anti’s are often in favour of the Swedish/Nordic Model (criminalising the clients of sex workers). The oppressed should not be punished for their oppression, they say, instead the oppressor must be stopped from oppressing: men should be stopped from exploiting women by buying sex from them.

I don’t disagree with Maxist theories entirely. But my intuition tells me your reasoning must be wrong when the ruling class tells the oppressed to be silent. Rich white men telling poor coloured women they know what’s good for them is icky. Something’s off when the ruling class tells the oppressed “you think you want labour rights, but you don’t. It’s part of a bigger picture that you don’t understand, only I as an educated rich person do. Trust me. You want us to make your job more dangerous by criminalising clients. It will be better in the long run, you don’t understand, so shush now, no need to organise or speak for yourselves, we’ve got it covered.” Oppression should not be fought by taking away the labour rights and human rights of the opressed. If sex workers are really the victim of an unjust system of oppression, we should give them the power back. Listen to them. Respect they might know best what they need.

These are caricatures, I understand. But I think it helps to know who you’re arguing with. The Idealists and Bad Guys are often lost causes, but the Neutrals can be reasoned with. Information and visibility help with that. Sex workers and their allies are winning the fight for prostitutes’ rights and safety, not even Anti’s can stop that.

Parody: Dutch Teachers Tackle Trafficking

[This post was part of an April Fools joke at Maggie McNeill’s blog.]

When a young 17 year old trafficking victim was discovered in a hotel in Valkenburg the Netherlands last fall, government officials and law enforcement authorities had to consider: how could this have happened right under our noses? The Netherlands in a major hub for human trafficking, as the country is located near the sea and has borders to various European countries such as Belgium and Germany. Major highways connect the cities, which are known to attract business men, and airports are located at both Amsterdam and Eindhoven. But a reason sex trafficking and modern slavery so often go unnoticed is because not all victims are bundled across borders in cars with tinted windows or shipped in containers. Sometimes they’re just hidden in plain sight, among other children and women, and are forced to serve Johns in their own bedroom or a hotel.

In an effort to fight this growing problem of prostitution of women and children, law enforcement and human trafficking experts are now working together with teachers to catch the earliest signs of child sex trafficking and mothers vulnerable to exploitations. “It is of the utmost importance that we intervene as earliest as possible” says Peter van Dam, coordinator of StopItNow and headmaster at Paarse Pollepel primary school. “Some children are trafficked as young as four years old, and we know from experience in the field that early intervention can prevent further trauma”. StopItNow is a collaboration between vice squads, the national coordination centre for human trafficking and the Teachers’ Union.

Teachers are now being trained to spot signs of trafficking, ask certain questions at parent-teacher-meetings and legislation is being proposed to make reporting of possible victims of child sex trafficking mandatory for all primary and secondary school teachers in the Netherlands. “You need to keep your eyes open” explains Peter van Dam. “For example if a child has a bruise, bullies others, isn’t happy to do its homework or if parents seem nervous talking to teachers, those are very clear signs something is up”. Van Dam isn’t worried that mandatory reporting might cause nervousness in parents; “if they’ve nothing to hide they’ve nothing to fear”.

“Kids as young as 5 years old are being raped daily, some estimates suggest up to one in twelve children could be victimised” warns van Dam. “First people have to decide they care about it,” he said in an interview. “Unless you acknowledge that it happens and are prepared to talk about it it’s not going to change. It all starts at the grass roots. We had 3,500 kids in primary schools in Amsterdam Sloterdijk alone, they’re a target for traffickers. It has to start from people understanding these aren’t kids in Africa. These are our kids.”

Free Sex

 

The idea that sex is something a woman gives to a man, and a man takes from a woman, is of course very problematic. But when we’re talking about sex work it is often suggested that a sex worker does what a non-sex worker does for free, and I could not disagree more. Some even call non-sex workers ‘amateurs’ and say they can’t understand why you’d have sex for free if you can get paid for it. I find it offensive. Sex work is not the paid version of sex.

There is a reason it’s called sex work: you are providing a service, a sexual experience, it’s about them and not you. When you have sex it’s about both of your sexual needs and desires, when you do sex work it’s primarily theirs. That doesn’t mean you can’t have great sex when you work, but the primary focus is on their desires.

I see many similarities between sex work and therapy. Both are very intimate on a psychological level, but constrained by time and place. When I’m with a patient I open my head and heart to them, I focus my empathy on them and let them in. Sex workers do the same thing, create an emotional connection, get into their head and their feelings. I often feel genuine affection for my patients, and sex workers for their clients. Both are a paid relationship, and are temporary. I wouldn’t listen to them for 45 minutes if I didn’t get paid to do it, a sex worker would not meet a client for a session if there was no money involved. Both are one-sided interactions: my therapeutic relationship is not about me and my emotional needs. It’s about them and what I can provide for them. That does not mean I don’t enjoy our contact, I often do, and I don’t cross any boundaries I don’t feel comfortable with. In sex work it’s the same, it’s not about you, it’s about them, although you can enjoy being with your client and always protect your boundaries, the interaction is about them. It’s a form of paid intimacy, and I love that I’m being paid to share something like that with others :).

But a good friend is not an amateur therapist. Listening to a loved one is not the ‘free’ version of what I do for a living, when I patiently support a friend through a rough patch I’m not ‘giving it away for free’.

Sex work, like therapy work, is an actual job with skills and responsibilities, not just a paid version of what everyone else gives away for free.

Sex work is work.

Normal Men Buy Sex

In Dutch we have a saying “unknown is unloved”, you can’t love what you don’t know. It’s easier to negatively judge a group of people when they are nothing but ‘others’, a group of ‘they’ who are different from us. That’s why visibility is so important when you’re fighting for human rights. When you personally know a gay person it becomes harder to be anti-gay and homosexuals coming out of the closet was an important part of the LGBT movement. I’m completely open about the fact that I am a kinky, polyamorous bisexual because I think it has a positive impact on the emancipation of people who fall outside the heterosexual, monogamous vanilla norm. Outspoken sex workers force others to accept that prostitutes, not victims of trafficking or coercion, but actual sex workers with opinions and choices who demand some basic respect for their autonomy in fact exist. It makes it harder to treat us, the sexual ‘others’, as non-human concepts to theorise about, and instead it gives us a face, a humanity.

That’s why I was so happy to read the guest column by Hugo on Maggie McNeill’s blog. Clients of sex workers are perhaps the most stigmatised and misunderstood people in the entire sex work debate. When you hear people talk about clients of sex workers, they are often portrayed as horrible abusers who don’t care if a woman is crying and bruised if it means they pay a few dollars less for her body. It’s that disgusting stigma that’s behind a lot of the trafficking-rhetoric, the idea that most clients could not care less about her well-being and that there is in fact a big market for abused, tattooed, caged and malnourished girls.

But the fact is that a lot of men pay for sex. There are many sex workers, they all have multiple clients and assuming those clients are not rich enough to see all sex workers, there are more clients than prostitutes. We know that true psychopaths, people with anti-social personality disorder who enjoy the suffering of others, are thankfully extremely rare. So it logically follows that most clients are normal, normal men buy sex.

And they seem to want to buy sex. The filthy fantasy of evil men enjoying the purchase of women’s bodies exists mostly in anti-prostitution activists’ heads. In reality, normal men want to buy a sexual service, a sexual experience with a provider who chose the profession out of their own free will. They are looking for a professional service for all kinds of reasons. Because they are in a sexless marriage but do not want to start an affair. Because they have a certain kink. Because they have no other way of arranging sexuality in their lives. Because casual sex is a turn on, because of the novelty and new experiences it brings. Because they want to have sex with an attractive woman. But not because they want to ‘buy a body’ on a ‘flesh market’, and they certainly would not want a crying, bleeding woman who is chained and abused (unless that’s her kink and they all consent, obviously).

I can’t even count how many women I know who would like to do sex work but are too afraid of the consequences, the stigma, the discrimination, the violence against sex workers by state and police. None are afraid of the clients, and no sex worker I know reports clients as being the biggest problem. Instead, it’s always the rescuers, the police and the state who seem to do them the most harm and show true disrespect.

The clients? They’re just normal guys who buy sex.

I want to thank Hugo and other clients who are brave enough to tell their story.

Sex work in the Netherlands is HOT

Honestly, TBD and I could not have picked a worse time to leave the country. In the first week of March our plane to Brisbane will take us across the world and far away from the Netherlands, where things are happening right now. The Christian party is quite small but, thanks to a series of events, found herself in a temporary position of power and she is abusing it to attack Dutch whores. She has found disgusting and disappointing allies in some of our sane and social parties, whose motivation isn’t fully clear to me. They’ve been proposing laws to criminalise clients and close down more licensed workplaces, and just this week there’s talk of a ‘pimp-ban’ that would make it illegal for accountants, drivers or security to work for a sex worker. To be clear: exploitation and forced prostitution are of course already illegal in the Netherlands. This law would target anyone involved with a non-licensed sex worker, even when she won’t admit that he is forcing her. Again, to be clear: current laws are vague and adequately discriminatory to facilitate a human trafficking sentence when a sex workers’ boyfriend cheats on her, but this new law would make it possible for authorities to go after him even if he’s faithful and she doesn’t want to see him punished. Jojanneke v/d Berge and the Christian broadcaster EO made a documentary attacking prostitution and spreading even more lies and misinformation. It was a shameful collaboration with that same Christian party again, who have used the documentary to influence public opinion and attempt to push through new anti-sex work laws.

But there is a bright side to all of this: the anti’s don’t know when to stop. They get so excited they start to lose control and this has caused sane people in the Netherlands to question their claims. In a bizarre twist, Jojanneke and her fundamentalist anti-prostitution friends have started a pro-sex workers’ rights movement, they have urged journalists and other professionals to speak up and debunk the bullshit because they took it too far.

I’m on the phone with radio, newspapers and television broadcasters on an almost weekly basis, Sekswerk Nederland is constantly being contacted, I’m meeting with politicians and policy makers, the Netherlands is buzzing.

The Dutch sexual health organisation Rutgers WPF published a thoroughly sane, well informed article promoting human rights for sex workers and objecting the biased anti-prostitution documentary by Jojanneke and the proposed laws of CU and Gert-Jan Segers.

Dutch sex workers have united in Proud, an organisation promoting sex workers’ rights. Sekswerk Nederland has close connections to Proud and I personally know several people who are involved, and these people are so cool. Their home is the Prostitutie Informatie Centrum in Amsterdam, where you’re always welcome for good coffee and a snack. Mariska Majoor is a hero.

My other hero Asha ten Broeke, who wrote an amazing book debuking sexist crap and I’ve been such a fangirl ever since, wrote a big article for the newspaper Volkskrant about sex workers’ rights. Seriously, Jojanneke got paid two years (from our tax money by the way, EO is public broadcasting) and failed miserably, give Asha a few months and she hits the nail right on the head. It’s a perfect article and she gets everything right. I am SO happy.

And Marieke Ridder, from Soa Aids Nederland and the Aids foundarion, published another great article in the other big newspaper NRC, arguing against criminalisation of sex work from a health perspective.

Whoa this is such an exciting time for sex workers’ rights!

Problems with Prostitution

Sex workers’ rights activists are often accused of denying problems that exist within the sex industry. The media, rescue industry and anti-prostitution activists emphasise cases of abuse, exploitation and coercion to support their idea that sex work is not just work and regulation is needed. Sex workers and their allies then stress that most prostitutes work because they want to, that cases of abuse and exploitation are the exception and that actually, many sex workers like their job. But this does not mean that sex workers and their allies deny that victims exist or that human trafficking is a problem. Instead, sex workers’ rights activists believe that policies concerning sex work should be based on facts, human rights and respect for adults’ agency and autonomy. We don’t deny problems – we are trying to solve them.

Blatant lies
Anti-prostitution activists assert that exaggerating problems, inflating numbers and making up statistics are acceptable when it’s done to call attention to abuses in the sex industry. For example, the Dutch public prosecutor’s department has stated that an estimated 70% of sex workers are forced, even though they know of no research to supports this, and justify that by saying that it doesn’t really matter if it’s 10% or 70% because forced prostitution is always horrible. Female tourists and sex workers who enjoy their work are included in registrations by CoMensha, the Dutch coordination centre for human trafficking, as possible victims of human trafficking. These numbers are then multiplied by fourteen (!) in the 2012 report on sexual exploitation and presented as the number of actual victims. This is justified by assuming that most of the victims must be hidden and that it’s a horrible crime no matter the prevalence so numbers don’t matter. Activists have actually been criticised by Dutch politician Gert-Jan Segers for arguing against the lies.

But numbers do matter. We need to know what is going on in order to make rational and informed decisions. Incorrect understanding of sex work and trafficking have been leading to misguided laws and policies, which have resulted in an increase in abuse and exploitation. We cannot discard research in favour of wild assumptions.

It seems self-evident to me that lying is wrong. Furthermore, these statements aren’t just an exaggeration, they are fundamentally incorrect, and policies based on these false claims are hurting sex workers ánd victims. We need to base policies on facts, not mythology,

Some facts on Dutch sex workers:
–  90% don’t even know anyone who is being forced
–  93% like or are neutral about their colleagues
–  92% have never experienced violence at work
–  86% is happy or even very happy with their job
– they see 10 to 30 customers per week
–  84% like their customers
–  80% never experienced any trouble with a customer ever
–  90% feel unrepresented in politics
–  90% feel government does not protect their interests
–  95% claim politicians have no idea what is going on in the sex industry

Actual problems
Since the brothel ban was lifted in 2000, about one third of the licensed workplaces have disappeared. Cities are not obligated to give out new brothel permits, which has resulted in a growing shortage of licensed workplaces. Workplaces behind windows are being closed, brothels have their permits taken when there is even the slightest sign of trafficking and no new brothels are opened. Although a brothel permit for escorts is not yet mandatory, escorts without a permit are harassed by police, refused from hotels and legislation is being proposed to ban escorts from working in hotels at all. There is no way a sex worker can arrange to work independently, get their own workplace, obtain a permit or start their own business. Because there are so few options to work, many sex workers are now working in the unlicensed sector.

Because unlicensed is often (deliberately?) confused with forced, sex workers in the unlicensed sector are the target of legislations aimed at tackling trafficking and involuntary sex work. There is an interesting contradiction when it comes to fighting unlicensed prostitution: while there’s a thick ‘rescue’ sauce smeared all over it, the ‘punish the dirty whores’ attitude is still obvious. Unlicensed sex workers are subjected to violent police raids, financial penalties, their belongings are confiscated, their money is taken from them, and anybody working for them or with them is arrested. Sex workers in the unlicensed sector who have children are usually reported to child protective services, and because unlicensed means criminally coerced in the minds of many health care professionals, children are assumed to be at risk and are often put in custody.

Licensed workers on the other hand are forced, by the government, to place themselves in a dependant working relationship with a proprietor who has a brothel license. Because of the permit-shortage, proprietors find themselves in a extraordinary position of power which almost begs for abuse. Sex workers are refrained from starting their own brothel, are not allowed to work independently, are refused by banks, get kicked out of their houses if the landlord finds out what work they do, are refused mortgages and are subjected to random police raids and interrogations. And when they have the misfortune of being suspected of being a victim (for example because they placed an adbought new things or even had a threesome) they go through the same misery as unlicensed sex workers.

Sex workers who want to report abuse and coercion are prohibited from working in the sex industry. They cannot persecute abusers if they do not intend to stop working, because it is assumed that abused or coerced sex workers are involuntary sex workers who would stop working if the abuse stopped. Voluntary sex workers are not regarded as ‘real’ victims. Furthermore, proprietors are not allowed to provide a workplace for sex workers who reported abuse. Again the assumption is that real victims would never want to work as prostitutes, so providing them with a workplace would mean involvement in human trafficking and forced prostitution, which will cost you your brothel licence. Understandably this has prevented many sex workers from reporting abuse.

The most horrible consequence of this war on unlicensed sex workers is the reduced time and money for victims of coercion and trafficking. Vice squads spend disproportionate resources hunting down unlicensed workers, police teams short on staff spend extraordinary amounts of time on interviewing the huge majority of voluntary prostitutes and there is proposed legislation making it mandatory for sex workers to have regular meetings with health care professionals, leaving less time and money for people in need. We do not have an excess of resources available, neither in law enforcement nor health care. Careless allocation of these resources is immoral and should not be accepted.

Disrespect, ignored and silenced
Because of the stigma associated with prostitution, sex workers are often the target of abuse. Many people feel that those ‘dirty whores’ deserve to be degraded, that they are so sub-human that common courtesy should not apply for them. Sex workers are spat on, called names, peed on, harassed. Drunk tourist assholes think it is funny to treat these women, who they cannot see as actual people, in a degrading manner. In movies sex workers are rarely anything but a prop. A dead hooker isn’t worth investigating. Running over a prostitute gives you bonus points in your video game. Sex workers are rarely depicted or experienced as actual human beings, persons with personal lives and loved ones, workers with ambitions and multi-faceted personalities. Instead they are seen as ‘other’, people not like us at all, and there is good evidence that this stigmatisation leads to an increase in violence directed at sex workers.

A common alternative to the ‘dirty whores’ approach is to consider sex workers as broken goods and unfit adults. There exists a strong stereotype that the average prostitute is of below average intelligence, has very few options available to them and ‘found herself’ in sex work because circumstances forced her into the profession. Former sex workers are shunned from jobs that involve any type of real responsibility, are fired if their former job is ever discovered and former sex workers carry the stigma forever. A whore is a whore and cannot be treated as an equal. I’ve been at multiple meetings where the attendees insisted on calling sex workers ‘girls’ or even ‘little girls’. I’ve regularly been warned that prostitutes are scared and easily startled, so I should approach them with care and slowly gain their trust. Slurs are common, sex workers are called ‘prostituted women’, cum-dumps, compared to animals on display or even called ‘meat carrousel’. Absence of sex workers at meetings on sex work is explained by stating that prostitutes are hard to reach and unwilling to talk.

The truth is that most sex workers are not ideological hippies trying to change the world, but instead are hard workers who want to make money. They have very little incentive to tolerate the belittling and bullshit, and would rather work a few extra hours than educate professionals who use their baby-voices when talking to them and offer cookies. Another truth is that sex workers want to be heard. Since I’ve started talking openly about my support of sex workers’ rights, around 2009, sex workers have all but imposed their trust and stories on me. I’ve been invited to join their communities, be part of a movement, meet for coffee, these people are not hard to reach.

But very few politicians and health care professionals seem to want to listen. They invite rescue organisations as professionals on prostitution. Sex workers who claim to work out of their own free will are told they are confused, their histories are examined and any trauma or negative experience offered as proof that they are unfit to make their own decisions or judge their own motivations. Instead, rescuers will tell them that they too are victims, they just don’t know it yet. And when finally a sex worker with no trauma, a good education and a promising future who truly chose to do sex work from a privileged position with plenty of options available to them speaks up, they are told they are not representative and they should give more priority to the experiences of people less fortunate, and to be silent so the professionals who claim to speak for the voiceless can talk.

Lack of information
It is virtually impossible for sex workers to protect themselves from police violence and institutional discrimination, because there is no clear information available on what is expected from a sex worker, what rights they do and do not have or how to adequately appease those in power so they do not punish or prosecute you. The government only provides information on forced sex work, trafficking and how to get out of prostitution, but not on how to work as a licensed sex worker. Although Soa-Aids is a really good organisation with a respectful attitude towards sex workers they have not succeeded in providing a clear overview of laws and regulations relevant to sex workers. Even politicians and other professionals often haven’t a clue what is and is not allowed, and although I would not go so far as to say the chaos and contradicting information is intentional, cleaning up that mess does not seem to be a priority for anyone. Instead, more laws and legislations are added and confusion grows.

Members of the European Union are allowed to work as a prostitute in the Netherlands, but thanks to the ‘barrier model’ they are hindered in doing so. The government provides no information for women who want to come to the Netherlands to work, there are no organisations to help them set up their life here or find housing, nobody offering them information on their rights and responsibilities as a sex worker. Because of this, sex workers from Eastern Europe are dependent on people who have made an illegal profession out of assisting foreign sex workers. For a big fee they arrange transport, the necessary papers, guide you through the bureaucratic jungle and help with housing. Helping sex workers is by definition human trafficking (273f lid 1 aanhef sub 3) but sex workers are offered no alternative and are forced to work with criminals.

A board member of Sekswerk Nederland recently attended an event aimed at sex workers, there were organisations and professionals there that were supposed to help sex workers in a professional manner. As a woman with years’ experience in the sex industry she wanted information on how to professionalise her work, perhaps arrange a different workspace and so forth. The people of the UWV, who were there to assist sex workers in becoming more independent and provide exactly that type of information, were not even aware brothel licences were needed and had no idea to how to help her. But they could totally offer her information on how to get out of prostitution and train to become a nail stylist if she wanted! I’m not sure how she stopped herself from smacking them over the head with her university degree.

How to solve problems in prostitution
The most important step in combating problems and abuses within the sex industry is full legalisation and deregulation. Almost all of the problems within the industry are the result of laws, legislation and stigma, by treating sex work as anything but work the industry is made vulnerable to exploitation.

Sex workers need to be treated as professionals in their field. Funding should go to organisations run by sex workers for sex workers, not to rescue organisations set on getting people out of prostitution. All parties involved in policies concerning sex work must emphasise respectful use of language and respectful attitudes towards adults in the sex industry, and adopt a zero-tolerance policy on slurs and belittlement.

Time and money should be invested in combating coercion, trafficking and abuse within the sex industry. Organisations must be held accountable when they fail to direct their resources responsibly and government funding must stop when organisations lie, continue to confuse sex work and trafficking or use money to bother and harass voluntary sex workers. Government should stop all funding of rescue industry, as they are currently one of the major human traffickers in the world and one of the leading causes of violence against sex workers.

Want to help victims of trafficking? La Strada International is a prostitution-neutral anti-trafficking organisation that actually aims to stop trafficking, not stop sex work.

Want to help sex workers? Please do so.

Want to listen to sex workers? They are a loud bunch indeed, so go right ahead! The Dutch are especially vocal.

Dutch Sex Workers Pissed Off

Starting tomorrow night, the Dutch (and very Christian) broadcaster EO will start a series of documentaries about sex work in the Netherlands. Although nobody has seen the documentary yet, the host Jojanneke van den Berge has managed to seriously piss of sex workers themselves because of her lies, disrespectful attitude and anti-prostitution stance. A little background information: Jojanneke used to work for PowNed, the same bastards that shamed mayor Onno Hoes for being an adult with a sex life with other consenting adult. PowNed is known for it’s nasty tactics, but it seems Jojanneke has not changed her tune much since she left them.

I think the biggest mistake Jojanneke made was to think that sex workers would keep silence, she seems genuinely surprised to be hearing from them and has not managed to keep her composure. It used to be you could just make up stuff, lie about the red lights district and attempt to speak for those poor, voiceless girls. Sex workers who didn’t fit into the role of passive victim were simply ignored. But with twitter and other forms of social media, sex workers have a place to get their voices heard and they are noisy indeed! Jojanneke has attempted to fight back against those unruly whores and tried to silence them, but mainstream media is picking up on this story. Hella Dee, chairman of Sekswerk Nederland was invited to speak on a radio show where Jojanneke was a guest, but Jojanneke would not let her finish two sentences before interrupting and shouting over the real-life experience of an actual sex worker. She’s been unsuccessful in hiding the fact that she is anti-sex workers’ rights.

Apart from the “selling their bodies” rhetoric, “70% of sex workers are forced” lies and “20 men a day penises in vagina’s screaming and scrubbing under showers sperm filth dirty dark spaces” perverse erotica, Jojanneke has been crossing some ethical boundaries even non-activists cannot approve of. Jojanneke claims she has never talked to a happy hooker while in a conversation with a happy hooker. I know at least four genuinely happy, well-educated women who decided to get into sex work out of their own free will who have talked to Jojanneke, but Jojanneke continues to lie she’s never spoken to them. In the documentary sex workers are recorded by hidden camera’s without their permission, their faces are blurred but Felicia Anna (a sex worker from the red light district who has uncovered most of Jojanneke’s lies, has been a strong voice in the sex workers’ rights movement and is one of those mouthy whores Jojanneke detests) has stated that most of the women are still recognisable, which means these women are vulnerable of being victims of stigmatisation and discrimination. This documentary might actually be one of the biggest attacks on sex workers in the Netherlands in many years. We’ll have to see it before we can judge, but considering Jojannekes declared war on sex work and sex workers (“prostitution is idiotic”, “many sex workers are not capable of making rational choices” and “prostitution should be illegal”) no one is optimistic.

One good thing though: the rest of the country is starting to listen to Dutch sex workers. They are simply too loud, too active, too articulate and too many to continue ignoring. These are not voiceless victim girls, sex workers are adults who work and demand to be treated with respect. We should listen. Because they will not shut up, Jojanneke. Not anymore.

Yesterday I met with two sex workers so we could discuss our plans for Sekswerk Nederland, the sex workers’ rights organisation we founded in 2014. Already we’ve met with politicians, attended meetings, been on tv, been quoted in national newspapers and have developed a good network within the Dutch sex workers community. For 2015 we’re even more ambitious, and I honestly feel we will be able to make a difference. One of the most interesting things, for me anyway, is how easy it is for people to change their mind once they find out that sex workers are.. people. Just people who order coffee, go travelling with  their boyfriend, have opinions, make choices. One of the women told me she regularly has the following conversation:

“But.. what if you get a customer that you do not want to have sex with, you really do not want to have sex with?”
“Then I say no and we don’t have a session”
“You can do that?!” MIND BLOWN

There’s something profoundly perverse about many of the ‘grim truth behind prostitution’ and ‘what nobody is telling you, the shocking truth revealed’ articles, documentaries and other rescue stories. “It’s like porn” another activist said, and I replied “I wish”. Porn is honest about the fact that it’s fiction, that its intention is to arouse. Rescue stories read like erotica, but they sensationalise sex workers’ lives at their expense and commodify the experiences of actual victims. They are obsessed with how many penises in filthy surroundings and rape by their stepfather and forced abortions and getting peed on and condomless blowjobs. While sex workers and sex work activists want to talk about human rights, international law, respecting the agency of other adults and stopping violence, rescue fetishists get all flushed as they emphasise that thousands of women get raped with objects and are forced to drink buckets of sperm and they get tattoos so everyone can see they are a whore. It’s so inappropriate. They ignore and silence actual sex workers so they can enjoy their rescue-fetish unhindered.

I’m not morally opposed to getting a certain kick out of hearing about the misery of others. It’s not something to be proud of, but you know, ‘based on a true story’ sells, we gossip about the misfortune of others and many people enjoy a little pityporn now and then. Kinksters get into heated arguments with each other over the question whether it’s acceptable to read true stories about rape and kidnapping as inspiration for their own fantasies. I get conflicted over that sometimes. But you certainly cross a line when you start to use others without their consent for your own sexual gratification. The rescue industry exploits others for financial gain, which is morally reprehensible, but their non-consensual use of vulnerable women for their perverse sexual preferences is a grim truth about the rescue industry that really nobody is telling you.