Tag Archives: rescue industry

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.

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.

All about them without them

One of the most crazy aspects of the rescue industry is their ability to simply block any information that contradicts their views and fully ignore any sex worker who does not identify as a victim. The Christian Dutch broadcaster EO has made a series on prostitution and the lack of knowledge and insight is mind blowing. Jojanneke v/d Berge, the host of the show, was allowed to write a column for the feminist magazine Opzij and she shamelessly admitted that in her two years of research she had succeeded in ignoring every sex worker who did not fit into the image of a victim. Dutch sex workers are a pretty loud bunch, so that’s actually quite an achievement. They further displayed their ignorance with the following video. “What would it be like if women bought sex?” they ask, and their presentation of sex work is so hilariously unlike any reality of any sex worker that it’s hard to understand how they can present this with a straight face.

Argh, My twitterfeed is exploding with Dutch sex workers who are pissed off and flabbergasted. And while Jojanneke van den Berge is allowed to share her prejudice and lies in newspapers, tv-shows and magazines, sex workers are (again) ignored. Disgusting.

Click here for the video.

The Weekly Personal

You know the saying “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know”? In the last year I’ve read a lot about sex work, the psychological consequences of sex work, cultural aspects of sex work and other research, and the more I learn the more I realise I don’t know nearly enough. I sometimes feel almost guilty for blogging about it, attending meetings as an expert on sex work and doing tv interviews because I don’t feel I know all there is to know. And then I watch interviews with politicians, rescue-industry people and idiotic journalists and I realise I’m a fucking expert compared to them. It’s like they haven’t even bothered to look anything up, search for any research to support their claims of even make sense. It makes me feel less insecure, but most of all I’m furious they they feel so free to restrict other people’s freedom. They don’t even try to make a coherent point.  “I’m going to ban lemonade. IF IT SAVES JUST ONE CHILD! What, do you think it’s okay to rape others? Because I don’t! Stop lemonade!” Ï mean, how can you even argue with something that makes no sense?

How To Support Sex Workers

redumbrellasAllies can play an important role in the sex workers’ rights movement. By vocally supporting sex workers we can challenge the assumptions of the people around us, creating a more tolerant space for sex workers and providing a better environment for sex workers to advocate for their rights. It’s helpful when a neighbour, friend or family member is openly positive about sex work and expresses their support for the movement. As professionals, academics, social workers, educators or people in a position of social power we can change stigma and discrimination of sex workers and even influence legislative reform. We can actually help change things. The most important step for non-sex workers is to stop harming sex workers’ rights. This sounds simple, but it truly is the most important step. Stop promoting stereotypes, stop supporting the rescue industry and oppose laws and regulations that harm people in the sex industry. Discrimination and criminalisation of sex workers don’t just harm sex workers – they harm us all. By becoming an active ally you can participate in a movement that is changing the discrimination and structural violence against sex workers and anyone in a socially vulnerable position.

Speak out
One of the most important things you can do as an ally is to speak out against violence, discrimination and stigmatisation of sex workers. Too often we remain silent when other people’s rights are breached, we remain silent when discriminatory or stigmatising language is used and we say nothing when a sex worker is harassed, bullied, abused or even killed. Let your school, friends, co-workers and politicians know you do not accept unequal treatment of people working in the sex industry. Say something when a friend makes a whorepohobic comment. Protest when new laws and legislation targeting sex workers are proposed. Talk about sex work as work, sex workers as workers and sex workers’ rights as human rights. It can be scary to openly disagree with the current discourse of sex workers as either victims or dirty whores who were asking for it, but as a non-sex worker you have the privilege of staying relatively safe as you speak out about these injustices. You might help create a less hostile environment for sex workers themselves to advocate for their rights.

Respect sex workers as experts in their field
footer-logoMore often than not it’s non-sex workers that are consulted as experts on issues concerning prostitution. As a non-sex worker advocating for sex workers’ rights your opinion will usually carry more weight in the public eye than the opinion and experiences of a sex worker. You often see tv shows, articles, conferences and even politicians talking about sex work without even one single worker present or being consulted. The perception of sex workers as dumb, uninformed and unable to speak for themselves is part of the stigma, stereotyping and discrimination against sex workers. Work against this stereotype by vocally respecting sex workers as experts in their field. Whenever possible, quote research by sex workers, refer to sex workers’ lived experiences and recommend sex workers’ rights organisations for public events and debates concerning prostitution. Let others know, by how you act around and talk about sex workers, that you respect them as experts in their field.

Check your vocabulary
Words are powerful, and the way we talk about sex workers can harm, shame and degrade them. The way we talk about sex work can reinforce stigma and influence others to treat sex workers in a degrading manner. You’ll notice obvious examples of this type of degrading and disrespectful language in media, rescue organisations and politics. Sex workers are called ‘prostituted women’ (denying their agency) or even ‘girls’, sex work is equated with slavery or trafficking (denying the existence of voluntary sex work) and raids and prosecution are often called ‘clean ups’ (suggesting sex work is filthy). Sex workers are often portrayed as passive subjects, people will state workers ‘find themselves’ in sex work because of pimps, trafficking or drugs. Rescue organisations and politicians treat sex workers accordingly, deciding what will be “done to” or “done with” the workers without consulting them or even asking for consent. At the same time sex work is held to a higher standard than any other type of work, only sex workers who totally love their job and wouldn’t want to do anything else and totally have other options are considered sex workers out of free choice. You’re either a happy escort or a victimised hooker. We don’t make this distinction for any other line of work, it is perfectly acceptable to dislike your job and simply work because you need money and don’t have any other options. Only sex workers are punished when they don’t love their job, only sex workers are treated as mentally disabled object that can be done to as we wish. Check your vocabulary and make sure you adopt a language of equality and respect.

Do not be a hero
It feels good to be the good guy, come in and save those poor kittens from their terrible fate and be loved as their saviour ever after. The sex workers’ right movement is not at all accommodating to these type of wannabe-heroes. Keep your cupcakes and your chitchat over coffee, because sex workers need rights, not some patronising talk with tea. Often we see people from the rescue industry use their acquaintance with sex workers as an accessory or evidence of their expertise on the subject, sometimes they even advise allies to visit the “girls” or stroll through red lights districts, as if sex workers are like monkeys in a zoo for us to gaze at. Please understand you are contributing to a movement of sex workers who have been organising, protesting, advocating and educating long before you came along. Many sex workers are academics, lawyers, psychologists or teachers. If you are respectful and supportive you can get a lot of love in this community, but inflated ego’s kind of tend to get shot down… sometimes harshly. Make sure you not only adopt a language, but also an attitude of equality and respect.

Be respectful and discrete
Never out a sex worker. Most sex workers are not completely open about their job, and even sex workers that are relatively ‘out’ might be uncomfortable letting certain people know what they do. No matter how ‘out’ a sex worker might be, please do not disclose this information to anyone who does not know already and always let the sex worker decide who this information is shared with. Please be discreet. Never ask people if they are or have been a sex worker, many sex workers are not in the position where they feel comfortable sharing this with you, and it forces them to either lie or out themselves when they do not want to. Both options suck. Many allies are (former) sex workers who are not in a position to be open about their job. On the other hand, do identify yourself as a non-sex worker if you are. This is information you can safely disclose and it makes it possible for sex workers to be ‘silently’ open by not explicitly identifying as a non-sex worker. Also be respectful of sex workers’ privacy. They might be open about their job, but that does not mean you get to ask rude questions, know every detail of their sex life or that they have to satisfy your curiosity. Sex workers are people, not entertainment.

Acknowledge your ignorance
As an active ally you will often be told by both sex workers and anti’s to “do your homework”. Of course it is your own responsibility to make sure you have the necessary information to reach sensible conclusions, and when you’re actively advocating for sex workers’ rights you need to have the background and knowledge to support your claims. But you can be an ally without spending disproportionate amounts of time studying the extensive research around prostitution. Supporting basic human rights does not have to be a full-time job and does not require years of studying. Don’t get too intimidated when someone asks you if you know this or that study by some important person, don’t let yourself get bullied into silence and realise it’s not about you when someone snaps at you to “do your homework”. Human rights are not rocket science. Try to get informed as best as you can, know some good resources, but above all acknowledge your ignorance and don’t apologise for not being an academic expert on the subject. Just don’t pretend to have knowledge that you don’t.

Know what you can do
You don’t have to do everything to contribute something to the sex workers’ rights movement. Maybe you can just not laugh when someone makes a horrible joke about sex workers (“so if you rape a whore is that theft or rape?” – actually heard that one more than once..). Maybe you can tell your friend “you know, I just don’t think it’s right to punish people for having sex with other consenting adults”. Perhaps you can contact a sex workers’ rights organisation and volunteer to help with funding, their website, some event. If you work as a health care professional maybe you can organise a meeting about sex work, raise awareness, invite a sex workers’ right advocate to advice your organisation on how to treat sex workers with respect. If you’re a lawyer, you can donate some of your time to assist sex workers when they’re prosecuted or bothered by police. You do not have to save the world or fight for every just cause, just take a little inventory of your life and see if there’s anything you can do. And know that that sometimes “I don’t think that’s funny” is wonderful to hear after a horrible rape-prostitutes joke. If that’s all you can do, do it. Every bit helps.

If you want to read more about being an ally, I recommend the following articles:

The Weekly Personal

One of the nice things about the Netherlands is that it’s somewhat egalitarian. We have our elite and celebrities and  security and all that, but it’s all pretty reasonable for a small country like ourselves. On the left is a photo of our prime minister Mark Rutte cycling to work, for example. Can you image president Obama on his bike in the streets? I like how our national politicians feel more like local ones.

I got into a discussion with Gert-Jan Segers on Twitter. He’s a member of the House of Representatives for ChristenUnie (Christian Union) and one of the initiators of the legislative proposal to criminalise clients of sex workers who are victims of trafficking or coercion. Don’t be fooled: ChristenUnie want to criminalise all forms of sex work, but they’ve convinced PvdA and SP to collaborate on this step towards the Swedish Model. It’s already illegal to have sex with someone who is obviously forced or not consenting, so this new law wouldn’t change that. But the PvdA and SP still say they believe this law won’t be used to start a witch hunt against clients of sex workers. I talked to one SP politician who actually seems to genuinely think this is true. Oh and Gert-Jan Segers had no idea that the number of possible victims reported by Comensha included women who had travelled alone. The ignorance is astonishing.

Anyway, I turned off my phone and went to a convent for the weekend. I sometimes feel like a bit of a fraud for not publicly self-identifying as atheist more, I think it’s important to be visible and I find the increased influence of theism problematic. They say you should pick your battles and I’m identifying with plenty of ‘other’ already, so I’ve decided to keep my religious ideas more to myself. But I regularly stay at this convent, I enjoy the slow pace, the silence, the routine, I like it there. I wish I could stay longer. I’m an atheist, they know this, I’m still welcome there. Those nuns are not the problem :).

But people like Frits Rouvoet are. (“Her mom died when she was 2. Her son is dying of cancer. Look at this scary-ass empty parking lot. She’s all alone and it’s so dangerous. Nobody chooses to sell her body, no prostitute decides to go into this type of life. I’ll just stalk the red light districts and write all about the sex girls are having for money and how degrading and filthy and fapfapfapfap such respect for the strong fapfapfap women fapfap“).

Rescue Rhetoric: Wedlock

wedlockAmy Sweeth was only 21 years old when law enforcement found her traumatised and neglected in a house in Gardenville, CL. Police officers were shocked at the extent of her injuries: almost every bone in her face was broken, she had been beaten with a metal pipe and kept in a freezing basement for days on end. Married at merely 18 years old, she is one of hundreds of thousands of women brought into wedlock each year. “Marriage and domestic violence are on the rise” says Tom Kreapy, police officer in Woodland and head of the Stop Homes Now project, a state-wide initiative to crack down on all home-related violence. In his fourteen years in the Anti-Domestic Force, he says he has seen the worst. “Young women suffer unimaginable cruelty at the hands of husbands and boyfriends. The public should be made more aware of the hidden abuses behind marriage”.

On Thursday, the Stop Homes Now Project released a report that highlights just how staggering a problem domestic abuse remains in the United Sates. According to the report, the Domestic Hotline has recorded more than 3,000 million cases of potential domestic violence between 2003 and 2013. “Marriage is happening right in our neighbourhoods” warns Angela Tite, co-founder of Concerned Maidens for America, a non-profit organisation against domestic abuse and romantic slavery. After working with victims for over a decade, she emphasises the inherent dangers of spousal relationships. “Young women are lured in with promises of love and respect, only to find themselves entrapped in what can only be called modern-day slavery. We can’t close our eyes to the dangers of marriage. The great majority of domestic abuse occurs within the home, and it is estimated that over 70% of wives experience some form of violence or coercion”.

“People who think that women voluntarily get into marriages should visit one of our SafeHouses” argues Tite. “The stories from thousands of wedlock-survivors will open your eyes. We recently had a woman come in so battered and bruised not even her mother could recognise her. Nobody would choose that kind of life voluntarily”. Kreapy concurs: “Not a day goes by that we’re not called in for another incident of domestic abuse, these are not isolated cases. Our officers are on permanent watch at SafeHouses, as husbands, wifebeaters and other spouses stalk and harass women. We must realise marriage is quite a grim practice, disproportionally victimising females”.sadchild

Not just adult women are at risk. According to the FBI, the average girl becomes involved in romantic relationships between 13 and 15, and some 500.000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of marriage and domestic violence every year. “Child abuse is most commonly found inside homes” explains Mary Addington of No Child Left At Home, the largest organisation advocating children’s rights and safety in the US. “Children experience physical, emotional and sexual abuse in household situations, and are often witness to sexual relations, romantic relations and wife battering”. Over three thousand children and women have been taken out of homes into state-monitored protective shelters, where home-raised children and wedlocked women are rehabilitated. Some might question whether children really are better off homeless, but deputy Kreapy makes it very clear: “if it saves just one child, we must continue home-stings and neighbourhood raids. We cannot allow a single child to stay in a violent household.”

State Rep. Stephen Homer announced the forthcoming legislation that is committed to reducing the illicit ‘groom’ demand for domestic abuse along with important provisions to combat this crime. “Individuals willing to marry expose vulnerable women and children to the abusive realities of domestic violence” said Homer. “This is an important step to make sure we aggressively address some of the most deplorable, criminal activity that plagues our state”.