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.