Trafficking in the Netherlands – measuring well

Measuring well is knowing what to do,” is the quote with which the report from the Dutch National Rapporteur Human Trafficking begins. But to what extent does the author of the report succeed in measuring well, and with those results deciding on the correct actions? While reading the 430 page report, I noticed that these critical questions went virtually unaddressed. And they should be adressed, because the author falls short. She fails at measuring well, and she fails in knowing what to do, and she fails in realising what disastrous results her inadequate efforts have.

Sex work is legal but regulated in The Netherlands.

Measuring well is knowing what to do.

Measuring well means that you take note of and register victims of human trafficking. That you identify victims is called ‘sensitivity’ — your method of measuring is sensitive enough that it detects actual cases. But measuring well also means that you don’t incorrectly register people who are not victims as being victims. You have to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat, and that’s called ‘specificity’.

However, the author recommends in all cases to stuff more chaff in with the wheat. Particularly to register individuals as victims more frequently, regardless of if there is an indication of actual trafficking. At the same time, she acts as if the false positives (reports of suspicion of trafficking when it is not actually occurring) are not a big deal, and are comparable with the number of false negatives (no report in cases of actual trafficking). See, for example, the following graph (page 28):

This graph shows the number of false positives as being smaller than the false negatives and ‘dark number’ together, which suggests that the scope of the problem is bigger than the represented numbers. But are there really so few false positives? I was pretty shocked when I saw the following example in the report:

In the course of the controls of the so-called “risk flights” out of Bulgaria, the ‘sluisteam’ (part of the border control) of the KMar [Koninklijke Marechaussee: Royal Dutch Marechaussee, or Marshals] spoke with a Bulgarian woman. This woman has been checked multiple times by the KMar when she arrived in the Netherlands, and she indicated that this was tedious. She claims to (“still”) not have anything to do with prostitution. This time she says that she is coming to the Netherlands for 3 days to visit a number of friends.  From further observation by the KMar officers to identify a possible person picking her up it seems that the woman went to the information desk of the Dutch Railway (Nederlandse Spoorwegen or NS), then made contact with someone via a public telephone, and made contact with someone again with her mobile phone. She subsequently left the airport by train. The KMar registered the woman with CoMensha. (Page 78)

Reports of possible victims of human trafficking are registered with CoMensha, the Dutch coordination centre for human trafficking. The number of reports in the last few years has increased significantly.

What do these increases mean? Various explanations are possible. It could be that there’s more awareness in different organisations, causing more signals of human trafficking situations to be seen. Or could it be that there’s more capacity for detection, which causes human trafficking to be more visible? (Page 21)

But a very logical explanation is skipped over: we’re making reports left and right of situations that have nothing to do with human trafficking, which is making our data completely meaningless. There’s enough in the report to support this explanation: most of the ‘victims’ don’t ask for additional help and don’t cooperate with a declaration. The KMar produces some extreme statistics: only 2% of the so-called victims want help.

Admittedly, in the report there’s talk of ‘victims(P)’ instead of victims. What they mean by ‘victims(P)’ is possible victims. But, as Zondares aptly puts it: “So they say here that the numbers that the whole report is based on, and that are used as if they are the truth, don’t show how much human trafficking there is, which is what the report is about, but that it is very important, regardless.” Exactly.

Reports of suspicions of human trafficking come mostly from the police (55%) and the KMar (25%). The police file a report when 10 points are tallied on a list of signs of trafficking. You get ten points, for example, if you don’t have free access to your earnings. You also get ten points if you come from a “source country” and you haven’t arranged for your visa or travel yourself. At the same time, the KMar and the international legislations make it impossible for you as a sex worker to arrange for these things yourself, but if you get help then that’s called trafficking. In addition, many expats let their employer take care of these affairs, but this list only applies to whores, of course. It’s ten points if you don’t have your own living space and therefore sleep at your workplace. Human trafficking. Having a guard is seen as suspect, having lots of friends, too, and also having few friends. Oh, and buying new stuff is no good, together with being positive about your employer and a large circle of friends it’s enough for a report. And if an agent thinks that he “feels” that it’s trafficking then that’s also ten points.

The KMar is a completely different story. Most of their reports are done on the basis of article 273f, clause 1 preamble and bullet point 3 from the code of criminal law.

‘Guilt of trafficking is punishable with imprisonment not exceeding twelve years or a fine of the fifth category ‘[…]’ one who recruits, brings or kidnaps with intent for the other individual to make themselves available in another country to perform sexual acts with or for a third party against payment.’ (Article 273f Sr, valid beginning 15 november 2013)

This means that it is forbidden to help foreign sex workers work here. It doesn’t matter if they want to work as a prostitute, if they hire you to help them, or if you are her sister and paid for her ticket in advance, every foreign prostitute who comes to work in the Netherlands and was helped in any way is by definition a victim of human trafficking. Once again, to be clear: every foreign prostitute that received any help is, according to the law, a victim of trafficking.

In the course of the controls of the so-called “risk flights” out of Bulgaria, the ‘sluisteam’ (part of the border control) of the KMar at Schiphol spoke with a highly educated Bulgarian woman. The woman admitted during a conversation with the KMar officers that she has lived in Amsterdam since sometime in 2010 and since about then has worked as a prostitute in the Netherlands, for which she registered herself with the Chamber of Commerce. She couldn’t give her monthly earnings from prostitution, but she does report that the earnings are not much and that she has kept a written record of the precise details. She can give her expenses, which concern 1,250 euros for the rent of her house, 90 euros for the rent of a window during the day and 100 euros for the rent of a window at night. After the conversation with the woman, the KMar officers observed whether the woman would be picked up. However, this seemed not to be the case: the woman simply left the airport by taxi. She was reported for registration with CoMensha.

Because of the completely careless manner of registration it is made impossible to get a picture of actual human trafficking. Trafficking where the victims are forced to work, are held against their will, are brought over country borders against their will. We don’t know how often this type of trafficking occurs, but the author of the Dutch national human trafficking report proposes never to find out and instead to make even more wild reports.

It’s recommended that the minister of Safety and Justice requires, in the to-be-developed national referral system, that all victims known by organisations must be reported to CoMensha. Organisations that have a requirement to report must consistently comply, organisations that don’t have such a requirement should report all known-to-them possible victims nonetheless. (page 250)

It isn’t going well with the measuring, but what about with the “knowing what to do”? Read part two here.

Originally posted on Marijkes Praktijken
Author: Marijke Vonk
Translated by: Kiimara Baker

9 thoughts on “Trafficking in the Netherlands – measuring well

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  6. Poppy

    The word ‘victim’ is misused to criminal proportion when linked with traffcking. A victim is someone who has no control over their destiny, or someone who has been misled or ill treated. A true victim of trafficking has had an experience that involves one one or all of these situations.

    Since when has a victim asked to be transported in order to work? Since when has a victim requested financial help to do work that they intend to do?

    If a person asks for help and is denied that help, surely that is worse if that results in them being homeless or becoming a victim of poverty? If anything these people are trying to avoid being victims, while then claims are made that this therefor makes them a victim.

    It is total nonsense to create victims that do not actually exist, simply to create statistics, so they can solve problems that don’t exist. The only explanation for this I can come up with is that of a moral high ground, where government would rather not comply with allowing Sex Workers into the Country or working despite the fact they legally allow it. It looks like they are being sympathetic with the sex worker, while actually using every loop hole in the book to interfere with her work and demonize it.

    This is when the sex workers who happily work independently become embroiled with these statistics that are inflated through the misuse of the word ‘victim’ and blamed, as their mere existence apparently facilitates those that are making money from trafficked sex workers. I’m guessing the truth would not add to our stigma efficiently enough.

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