Tag Archives: trafficking

Ireland: Protect your whores from the nuns!

The Magdalene Laundries might have closed, but sex workers are not safe from Irish Sisters at all. The nuns simply regrouped, renamed themselves and are still harming prostitutes. A little background information:

FMagdalen-asylumrom 1765 all the way to 1996, ‘fallen women‘ in Ireland were taken from their homes and incarcerated in so-called ‘Magdalene Laundries‘.  A fallen woman could be an unmarried pregnant woman, a girl who was considered too promiscuous or a prostitute who needed to be ‘saved’. In these prostitute-prisons they were horribly abused and had to perform forced labour.

“the institutions had little impact on prostitution over the period”, and yet they were continuing to multiply, expand and, most importantly, profit from the free labor. Since they were not paid, Raftery asserted, “it seems clear that these girls were used as a ready source of free labour for these laundry businesses”. Wikipedia

The 1993 discovery of a mass grave in Dublin opened up the conversation about the exploitation of prostitutes and led to a government inquiry. A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a €60 million compensation scheme was set up. The four religious institutes that ran the Irish asylums have not as yet contributed to compensate the survivors of abuse. This is despite demands from the Irish government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture.

You think the exposure of all their crimes would have at least stopped the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, and Sisters of Charity from abusing sex workers, right? They refuse to acknowledge what they did or compensate their victims, but maybe they would be out of the whore-hurting business, right? Surely they’re not making money, right now, doing the exact same thing, right?

Yeah, right.

The Sisters continue their abuse

ruhamaRuhama, the largest anti-sex work organisation in Ireland, was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters“both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution“. They’re even funded by the Department of Health Department of Justice. They received over 14 million between 2006 and 2011.

We know that Ruhama is led in part by Magdalene Laundry nuns” said Kate McGrew, member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland. Sex workers in Ireland have been fighting for human rights, labour rights and protection from (state) violence. But they have found a persistent and aggressive enemy in the Catholic sisters. Ruhama has not just been bothering prostitutes again, they also actively campaign against sex workers’ rights. They opposed Amnesty International’s proposal in favour of human rights for sex workers and are fighting against everything sex workers demand.

But still, the Irish government is allowing Ruhama , those same people who abused and exploited prostitutes, to advise them on laws that directly impact sex workers, while excluding sex workers themselves. Not only is the Irish government funding the same people that abused sex workers for all those years, they even consult them as ‘experts’ on prostitution.

How many more skeletons need to be found in closets or cesspools before the public wakes up to the evil of prohibitionism? How many more lies until the self-appointed saviors lose their credibility for good? And how many more women have to die? – Maggie McNeill

itssomethingRuhama does not offer any actual help to sex workers who need help. Rescue organisations and anti-prostitution NGO’s rarely do, they mostly make money by ‘raising awareness’, abusing prostitutes, receiving money from governments and providing ‘education’ to health professionals and policy makers. But it seems they haven’t killed any babies. yet. So, you know, that’s something…

You can read more about human rights for Irish sex workers here. You can read more about abuses in the anti-trafficking rescue industry here.

The Dutch Sex Work Downfall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I propose a radical new approach.

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

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

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

End Demand for Traffickers: Decriminalise Prostitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(thanks to Raven_AB for helping me find the video)

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.

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.

The Weekly Personal

Decriminalising sex work helps prevent the spread of AIDS, recent (and older) studies have shown. These facts have been picked up enthusiastically by sex workers’ rights activists as an argument for decriminalisation. Although I believe it is important to debunk myths such as the idea that sex workers carry more STD’s or that sex work spreads disease, I’m not too fond of the sex workers’ rights as a public health issue approach. The point is, I wouldn’t accept the argument if it was the other way around. If decriminalising sex work would result in an increase in HIV infections, I would still believe that sex work should be decriminalised because this is a matter of individual human rights. Killing everyone with HIV would be a very effective way of fighting AIDS, but we all understand that the individual right to life overrules that strategy. Sex workers’ right are human rights, irrelevant of the impact on the spread on AIDS. Don’t get me wrong: we should debunk the lies. People against decriminalisation because they think it’s bad for public health should be confronted with the facts, people fighting the spread of HIV should support decriminalisation, but when push comes to shove, this is not a public health issue. Sex workers’ rights are human rights.

Anyway, I joined Marlies Dekkers, Jantien Seeuws and Andreas Wijsmeijer last night at the Arminius ‘Denkcafe’ on BDSM. We were invited to talk about the hype around 50 shades of grey, media representations of kink and of course the BDSM scene itself. More than 100 people showed up, the BDSM shop Mr. B. from Amsterdam showed us some kinky toys and all in all it was a great evening. I love getting in front of people and telling them about sex, it’s so much fun. I’ve never been nervous in front of groups. Well, that’s not true. I get nervous during mandatory introductions, I get nervous when I have to stand in front of a group as someone else talks about me and I just have to stand there (yeah, graduation was fun.. meh!) but when I have something to say I love to talk.

1Some good news: they opened up the kink-location Phee’s! It had been closed because of kink omg sex omg whores omg trafficking, but after protests it was opened again! Yay! And then it was closed again. You can’t make this stuff up. But I met up with the awesome people from the Prostitution Information Centre in Amsterdam and their activist network, and with Felicia Anna, so that was cool. Het blog is a must-read by the way!

The Weekly Personal

Weekly! Ha, That’s what you get when your plans are too ambitious, failed weekly personal updates. We’ll just have to make do. Life has been good! A couple of weeks ago I organised the ‘Sushi Baby’ munch, a meeting for people who are interested in BDSM. We have dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant (which isn’t too bad for an all-you-can-eat) and meet up with other kinksters. It was fun, it was a lot, I felt full for days! And then a week later my family and I went to an all-you-can-eat wok-restaurant for my mom’s birthday, and that was fun, and a lot. And then yesterday my partners’ parents took us out to dinner, not an all-you-can-eat thankfully but it was a lot. Man, I love food.

2014-08-24 13.55.31I went to the 20-year anniversary of ‘PIC‘, the prostitution information centre in Amsterdam on the 24th this month. We went to visit the famous banana-bar, saw some shows at Casa Rosso, looked through the erotic museum and saw the Belle statue at the Wallen. I’m very happy we don’t put women in jail for having sex with other consenting adults just because someone doesn’t approve of our motivation to have sex. You can just walk through the red lights district, there’s tours where you can even visit one of the work-rooms for the women behind the windows, information on how to rent a window is visible for anyone. The Netherlands still is one of the safest, accepting, tolerant countries when it comes to sex and sex work.

But us Dutchies are working hard to change that. I recently read about a case in the Netherlands where a man was convicted of human trafficking because he lied to his (sex worker) girlfriend. She was a sex worker before she met him, gave him money because he promised her a future together, then he turned into an abusive bastard and left her for the girl he’d apparently been with the entire time. If she’d been a hairdresser there wouldn’t have been a case, but she was a sex worker, so human trafficking. Seriously. They even want special judges that are specialised in trafficking because it’s such an invisible and complex problem that regular judges get all misled and confused.. or something. But I met up with Peter Kwint, a politician who is involved in the 1012 project in Amsterdam and he was really cool and not anti-sex work at all and who knows he might change something so we’ve got that going for us which is nice. He bought me a lot of good beer and then let me partycrash some girl‘s birthday, it was great.

I’m back in school to become a cognitive-behavioural therapist!2014-08-26 21.11.44 I still work as a therapist at Praktijk voor Seksuologie/Advies & Hulp of course, but it means I’m also keeping really busy with studying. And I have our cat Poes to keep me company. Aahw. So cute.

Oh, and they closedPhees‘, a location for non-commercial BDSM meetings and party’s, because of laws against trafficking. Yup. They now need a brothel-permit (which are impossible to get) because sex! It might happen! And you know what you get when you have sex? Alllll the trafficking! Told you they’re not only coming for the whores.

The Weekly Personal

You know, I always fool myself into thinking I’ll be super productive when I have time off. A whole week in a beautiful house in France, nothing to do but hang around, enjoy myself, surely I’ll have plenty of time to write tons of blog posts, answer all of my e-mails, maybe even organise my documents and set up a better back-up system! Yeah. Never happens. We sat in our jacuzzi almost every night, looking out over the valley, talking and drinking wine. Days were spent reading books, playing games, taking short walks and sunbathing. My partner and I intended to go to Paris the last weekend to visit a friend of his, but it was one of the ‘black Saturdays’ and we got so stuck in traffic we never even reached the city. We ended up on a friendly camping site filled with Dutch families (seriously). But we made it to Paris the next day, visited some of the tourist attractions, hung out with the friend and drove all the way back home that night. On Monday after work I finally wrote the blog posts, answered my e-mails, fixed my laptop, cleaned the house and went out for ice-cream.

Visiting CoMensha was interesting. They are the national coordination centre for trafficking, they provide rescue shelters for victims and register reports of suspicions of possible victims of trafficking from police and marshals. I’ve been very sceptical of their reports and how their numbers are being used by the national reporter on trafficking and other politicians. The vast majority of people reported to CoMensha do not want to be helped, they often express discomfort about the questioning and stalking and some of the registered individuals are simply highly-educated non-sex worker women who travel alone! But the number of reports are still used as an indication of trafficking in the Netherlands, the national reporter is working to make reporting of ‘suspicious’ situations mandatory for even more organisations and politicians wave the inflated numbers around when proposing new laws restricting sex work. I met up with Bas de Visser last week, the Senior Advisor Public Affairs & Public Relations. He explained that CoMensha focusses solely on human trafficking, helping people who want help. They keep records of reports of suspicions of trafficking but they do not (and can not) check the reports or do any research. They try to be as clear as they can about this, try to consistently report on “suspicions of possible victims” instead of victims and try to make sure it is clear that they do not examine the reported cases. The fact that the national reporter, NGO’s and politicians then use these numbers as reports of actual victims is something they can’t be held responsible for. We talked about the way the inflated numbers are used to take away sex workers’ rights, about the raids on brothels and sex workers working from home, how all these developments are harmful to both victims and sex workers. We talked about the rescue industry. We talked about the fact that sex workers are talked about but rarely invited to talk with. The conversation derailed into a discussion about the Swedish Model, how clients of sex workers are treated as disordered, how even chemical castration is offered as a ‘treatment’. We talked about treating sex work as work, the new proposed legislation targeting clients, the lack of funding for sex workers’ rights organisations. All in all I got the impression that CoMensha tries to focus on trafficking in all sectors, is not anti-sex work, is somewhat sceptical of many of the proposed legislations concerning sex work (they were not in favour of registrations of all sex workers, for example) but don’t consider it their work to fight for sex workers’ rights.

Personally I feel they could do more to publicly distance themselves from the way their numbers are being used in the media and by politicians. When another anti-sex worker politician quotes their report as “thousands of victims every year!” I feel they should contact the media to explicitly state that that is not what their reports say. But it was good getting to know their organisation, that they are not an enemy and could even be an ally to sex workers’ rights.

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”.

We Are Whores

magnanti“I feel current sex workers should have a bigger place at the table than I do. I [..] should not be the prominent voice when it comes to what people doing the work, right now, need in order to stay safe and have access to human rights.”
Dr. Brooke Magnanti

When it comes to sex workers’ rights it should be sex workers themselves who should be heard first. “Nothing about us without us” they would say, and I could not agree more. Too often sex workers are talked about, things decided for them, laws and regulations are passed without their input ‘for their own good’. Sex workers are silenced by calling them victims with no free will, victims with false consciousness who don’t know what they’re talking about, they are called pimps or ‘pimp lobby’ or are told they are unrepresentative, all to shut them up. Sex workers’ rights organisations are rarely consulted by government and other organisations, instead they ask psychologists and feminists and police to give their biased opinions. The last thing we need is another expert or professional talking about sex workers.

But I can’t shut up. I’m not a sex worker, but I can’t keep silent. Not only because my sense of justice forces me to speak up when other people are victims of discrimination, abuse and violence, but also because these are not just sex workers’ rights. These are women’s rights. These are people’s rights. These are my rights.

The criminalisation and strict regulation of sex work means that my freedom to have sex with other consenting adults under circumstances I decide is restricted. It means that I am being ‘protected’ from my own choices, that a government can tell me what to do ‘for my own good’ even when I am harming no one. The ‘Swedish model’, ‘Nordic model’ or ‘end-demand’ tactics are even more offensive. In Sweden a 17-year old boy was convicted under these end-demand laws for having sex with an adult sex worker. The adult woman is defined as unable to give consent to sex under those circumstances, while the male minor is criminally culpable.

There is overwhelming evidence of the harm criminalisation, strict regulation and end-demand causes for sex workers. But the myth is that if you stay away from the sex they don’t approve of, you’ll be safe. The myth is that erosions of women’s rights and human rights won’t hurt all of us. “We’re only coming for the whores” is a lie.

Condom-possession is now used as evidence of prostitution. In some areas, simply carrying a condom is enough to be harassed by police or even arrested for prostitution. In other areas, a condom can be used to label you a victim after which you lose all your rights. Laws against sex work never stop with sex workers. In Arizona you can get arrested for looking like a whore, waving at cars or talking to people. They can film your private sex life if they think you’re a whore (yaknow, evidence!). The stigmatisation of sex workers not only heavily increases police violence towards sex workers, it also means you are more likely to be battered or raped by cops if they just think you’re a whore. Anti-sex work laws restrict women from traveling alone or being alone on the streets. They are increasingly being used to take away privacy, restrict the internet and increase surveillance.

These are our rights to have sex when we want, dress as we want, go where we want and not be assaulted, raped or detained. We can’t be silent about this.sji_poster6_shannon_OU

It’s a mistake to think that prostitutes are fundamentally different from other people. It’s a mistake to think that sex is obviously and clearly different from non-sex, that sex work is strictly different from other types of work, that prostitution is clearly different from non-prostitution. Violence against sex workers should be stopped, regardless whether it’s violence from the hands of police or pimps, but it’s a mistake to think that violence won’t harm us all. There’s no clear line between sex workers and the rest of us, we’re all people.

We cannot allow the human rights of sex workers to be breached, because these are our rights. We are the whores.