Trafficking in the Netherlands – knowing what to do

“Measuring well is knowing what to do,” is the quote with which the report from the Dutch National Rapporteur Human Trafficking begins. In my first post about this report I showed that the author of the report doesn’t succeed in measuring well. But what about knowing what to do against trafficking in the Netherlands?

In order to take effective action against trafficking, it’s important to make a distinction between voluntary prostitution and trafficking. We want to make it difficult for criminals to exploit people and to force them to work, and we want to offer victims of these sorts of practices as effective and humane help as possible.

The Barrier Model
Making it as difficult as possible for traffickers, that is the goal of the barrier model. This involves barriers with regards to entrance/identity, housing, labour and fincances. According to this method, making it more complicated for traffickers to make women work as prostitutes will cause trafficking to decrease. The author believes that this model is very sensible and proposes expanding it.

We see from this paragraph that a number of victims that were recruited in the Netherlands came in contact with the recruiter through the internet. Creating barriers on the internet is therefore relevant. (page 152)

“Recruiting” is the word that the author uses for all the ways that sex workers get into prostitution; a recruiter is anyone that helps a sex worker with this. In practice, the barrier model means that it’s made difficult for prostitutes to work. Legislation and regulation around sex work are becoming more and more complicated, controls are becoming stricter, and there are even plans to begin registering sex workers. Take note, prostitution is a controversial profession, which makes sex workers a vulnerable group. It often causes problems if people realize that you are a sex worker. People lose their other job (for example as secretary or kindergarten teacher), people lose their friends and family, they get trouble from neighbors and acquaintences, child protective services can interfere with your children. Sex workers prefer to avoid attention because of the stigma, but the author almost wants to see them all going around with “prostituted woman” written on their foreheads.

It’s notable that the barrier model causes many sex workers to be dependent on helpers, particularly foreign sex workers who need help with papers and housing. Prostitution permits cause sex workers to be dependent on their exploiter, because only the exploiter has a prostitution permit. You’re paving the way for abuse.

It appears that a substantial number of the middle- and eastern- European suspects operate as kidnappers from abroad. The same group of suspects arrange more frequently in relation to the other suspects for the necessary documents (such as a work permit) for the victims. (page 167)

It’s a pretty bizarre situation. The government’s interventions make it so that sex workers can’t arrange everything themselves, if they get help it’s called trafficking, so then the interventions are intensified so that sex workers need even more help in order to be able to work, which we then call an increase in trafficking!

But from the case study of the National Rapporteur it doesn’t seem that traffickers usually work in cooperation with other criminals (page 132)

Police Raids
Prostitutes call them round-ups; the author of the report doesn’t think it’s a problem to use this term. They enter the brothel by force with 300 police agents (500 in Alkmaar), smash everything to pieces, the women and all others present are thrown in a police wagon and taken along. (page 38, round-ups in Eindhoven). Meanwhile they may also enter your house to break stuff and steal your things (they call that confiscation, because you’re a victim, of course, so the money is derived from criminal activities. We should do more of this, says the author, page 221). You’re not arrested because you’re a victim, but you’re also not allowed to leave. You’re interrogated about drugs, pimps, violence and abuse, and bribed with stories of compensation for damages (page 213) if you will just give them a culprit and be a good victim. The intimidation can go on for a whole night. Not only is it terrifying, it is also quite an invasion of your life to be suddenly taken from your work and interrogated. Arrests normally don’t happen, because trafficking is rare, but it’s explained away with the idea that they get more of an understanding of prostitution this way.

Don’t Listen
Above all, don’t listen to sex workers. That’s what the author emphasizes. We shouldn’t assume that women that are “freed from the hands of the trafficker” can act out of free will (page 160) and so we don’t have to take their words too seriously, either. That women don’t see themselves as victims and don’t want to cooperate on prosecution is simply a sign that they have been deeply controled by a trafficker.

“The idea that a “freed” victim once again has free will and can immediately decide to cooperate with the investigation is possibly contradictory to the control that the victim has experienced during the exploitative situation.” This must be taken into account when determining when to record the statement. Intake workers, but also treatment officers, can fulfill a role by exploring the options whereby they can pass suspicions about this on to the police. The police can then decide to delay taking the statement, with the goal of getting a more accurate statement at a later stage. (page 160)

Not to listen to sex workers is advice that you see repeated throughout the whole report. They’re victims whether they want to be or not, and if they don’t immediately admit that they are a victim then we give a ‘statement of victimhood’ and use threats and promises (including residence permits and compensation for damages) to try to get the woman to cooperate. That this rarely leads to prosecution is logical, but it does give us a larger number of suspects. Which looks good in the reports.

According to the author, knowing what to do mostly consists of making work more difficult for prostitutes, interfereing with prostitutes, and ignoring prostitutes when they talk about their experiences. By doing this the position of the sex worker is made weaker, which makes her more vulnerable to exploitation. Our approach to trafficking seems to cause the exact problem that we are trying to fight.

Measuring wrong and having not an inkling what to do. But what should we do, then? In the third part of this series I will present concrete recommendations for how to deal with human trafficking.

2 thoughts on “Trafficking in the Netherlands – knowing what to do

  1. Pingback: We Are Whores | Marijke Vonk

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